Dr. Google: on-call 24/7

June 21, 2016
Melissa Howard Integrated Producer

Why patients are going online for their health information and how you can be there during their journey.

Imagine you’ve just been diagnosed with a health condition. Or, you are wide awake at 3am for the third night in a row and deeply concerned with this new bout of insomnia and its underlying cause. What’s going on in your head and where do you turn?

Pre-internet, you would have waited to be seen by your doctor in their office or asked friends and family. Now, in our world of instant and vast information, you have a new doctor: Google.

According to Pew Research, 77% of online health inquiries start with search. That means, more people are going online for their health information before picking up the phone and calling their healthcare provider or health system.

I’m not here to debate whether the increase of online health searches or WebMD is a good thing. If you have any hint of hypochondriac-ism you probably have an opinion on the subject. I’ve been known to Google many of my minor health complaints and convince myself that something was very wrong.

I am here to encourage you to embrace this new world we live in and find new and innovative ways to be where your patients are right now: online.

As healthcare marketers, we can either ignore this industry change OR we can recognize the great opportunity that exists: to be there alongside this person during a potentially difficult time – and offer informative, objective and reasonable information to help the patient on their personal journey.

Here’s what to consider when developing your digital marketing strategy for reaching the online patient:


Research your audience: focus on the patient needs and desires

The place to start is understanding your audience. Think deeply about your patient – what are their desires and needs? Why are they turning online instead of calling their doctor? Are they embarrassed by some of their questions? Are they looking for other patients who are in their same situation and battling a serious disease?

Humans crave knowledge. Information is now at our fingertips, 24 hours a day. Search for any health term and you’ll find pages of information.

If you can understand your patient and their needs, you can be in a position to offer your services when they are searching for a solution.


Look at the data: dig deep into analytics to further understand your audience

While doing research for one of our clients, we found that search terms related to “Can I die from [this symptom]” increased during the midnight hours and tapered off by sunrise. Since we knew that a common side effect of this disease was insomnia and difficulty sleeping, we could see that as the patient was unable to sleep, their online searches became more desperate.

Looking at general traffic or search terms/phrases is not enough, we need to dive deep and look at when they are searching and how they are searching to come up with the why they are searching. When you know the why, you can offer up a solution that meets the patient needs.

Once you know the search patterns or habits, you can begin to be where your patient is during a potentially emotional and frightening moment. Can you offer reassurance, help, empathy?

A focus of the healthcare marketer should not be to SELL their services, but to be there to offer a needed service at the time a patient is looking. People can see through inauthentic behavior, make sure your message is targeted to the right people at the right time.


Craft your online ecosystem with several touch points along the journey

You’ve done your audience profile, thought about their online behaviors and looked at all the data. Now what?

In order to create the most effective online ecosystem, we need to consider where the patient is in the buying cycle and the various tools available to digital marketers.


1. Paid search

Paid search allows you to create a clear path between the patient’s problem and your solution. You can target and tailor the message to the terms being searched.

Patients who are just beginning their online research will search for more general terms such as “headache” or “insomnia”. From here, most patients will read symptom-based articles on the top sites (WebMD, Wikipedia, Mayo Clinic).

As they progress along their research and online journey, searches will become more detailed, “sleep clinics near me”. This is the place where paid search can deliver an ad with more specific messages and deliver the user to a page with content about a provider.

Paid search allows you to send people to different places, based on their search terms. For instance, a search for “OB doctors near me” could send the user to a page that highlights the OB doctors; a search for “which OB practice near me has the lowest rate of c-sections” could send the user to a page that highlights the natural focus of the OB practice.

Targeting the message to the search term results in higher click through rates and conversions. Higher conversions mean you are finding the right audience who respond to your message.

Paid search is not a ‘set-up and leave’ type of engagement. You have to constantly test, optimize, test again. A flexible landing page system like Unbounce allows you to test and optimize content and even use different versions of a page based on search terms to maximize conversions.


2. Social Media

According to a PCW report, 41% of patients say social media impacts their choice of healthcare providers.

Social media is an opportunity for health providers to build trust and grow relationships. Engage your audience, provide valuable health information and offer assurance.


3. SEO Optimization (Organic Search)

SEO requires both technical enhancements to a site combined with a focus on keywords and content. It’s a very important part of the ecosystem and one that takes time to build and nurture.

A higher organic search placement means more traffic to your site and potentially more patients. Additionally, the more content you have on your site boosts not only your SEPR but positions you as an expert resource.


4. Mobile

Patients are searching and booking appointments across many devices. If your website is not mobile optimized, you are set to lose a significant chunk of potential patients.

One of the most interesting research on this indicates that patients are researching their health issue or provider while in the waiting room. Do not miss out on potential patients by ignoring the mobile trend.

Healthcare consumers are relying on digital healthcare content now more than ever. Not only is digital changing the healthcare industry, consumers attitudes towards health and where to get health information are also changing. Health systems can position themselves to offer valuable, timing information to the patient where they are (online) – and in turn gain the trust and loyalty along the way. Let’s be there on the journey together.


Core Creative is a branding agency that specializes in telling the life-changing stories for mid-market healthcare systems and the emerging med-tech world.


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