An established doctor who had been in practice for nearly thirty years recently said, “There are days I wish the internet had never come about.” His grumblings came on the heels of a patient who came to see him, convinced she was dying of a rare disease because of misinformation she found online. While he may have wanted to tell her to stay offline when it comes to health matters, he also realizes that’s not even remotely realistic—nor even advisable in most cases.
Even this self-described “old-fashioned” doc knows that the digital world has transformed our lives and is here to stay, including when it comes to our health. In fact, 72% of internet users have looked online for health-related information of one kind or another within the past year, according to a report by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. Advising patients to stay away from online information is so outdated that patients find it offensive.
For example, a patient we’ll call Anne said, “My doctor told me to call her when I had symptoms I was unsure about, and to not try to do my own research online. That struck me as arrogant. I get that she is the expert and maybe wants to help me avoid wrong information, but she should think about it from my perspective. I have a wealth of information at my fingertips and I would be naive not to use it to better understand my health concerns and my options. Yes, I may find some incorrect information but I think I’m smart enough to then ask more questions. I want a doctor that will help me know where to look, not one who tells me not to look.”
Start The Patient-Doctor Partnership Online
As it turns out— ironically for Anne’s doctor— Anne then went online to research physicians in her area and chose a new doctor who encourages patients to use reputable digital information, including Facebook forums. This doctor understands that Anne is like the majority of today’s patients whose first step to understanding their health concerns is often a search engine. Online searches lead them to a hospital’s or doctor’s website, as well as to third-party review sites like Healthgrades. Those sites need to contain relevant and valuable information to inform their healthcare choices and motivate them to take action.
If patients once considered themselves subordinates to their doctors, they no longer do. Patients today consider themselves partners alongside their doctors in their healthcare journey, and that relationship begins way before they turn up for a consultation. Patient-doctor experiences start where health decisions are researched and made—online.
The good news with this development is that a physician’s influence isn’t limited to one-on-one patient visits in the office. A doctor’s website, blog, and digital platforms allow him or her to create influential physician-patient communications to inform and motivate both prospective and current patients to make proactive health choices.
By posting informative material on their websites and social media, physicians are empowering patients to access information, do research, and even network regarding their health conditions.
Communicate Like A Patient
Providing quality healthcare information on your website and social media channels will increase your online visibility and establish you as an authority in your field, which will attract prospective patients. However, in order to be found online you need to talk about what your target patients are asking about, with the search terms they’re using.
This can be a tough one for doctors, who’ve spent years referring to conditions and treatments by medically correct and technical terminology. But this isn’t how patients communicate, nor how they search for symptoms and treatments online.
For example, a doctor may use the term “chronic fatigue,” but patients may commonly search for solutions for being “always tired.” Each doctor needs to find out which phrases or keywords their potential patients are searching for.
Search tools like Google Trends or Google AdWords Keyword Planner can shed light on which keywords are most used based on any speciality and location. The most popular keywords and phrases should then be incorporated into the doctor’s website pages and content. By creating content that targets what patients are searching for and gets them to click on a link, you’re likely to see your ranking on search engines like Google and Bing move up.
Additionally, you can create content that will have better odds of attracting new patients by taking stock of your current patients and listening closely to what they are asking.
- Who are they? (age, gender, location)
- What medical conditions do they most ask about?
- What words do they use to describe those conditions?
- What pain or problem do they want to alleviate?
- What have they tried already on their own, or with another medical provider?
- How did they find your practice?
- What motivated them to schedule an appointment?
The most important thing to keep in mind is that your patients are educated consumers who are willing to play an active role in their health care plan. Physicians and medical practices need to think from patients’ perspective to grow their healthcare businesses, and must embrace the digital era. Download a free infographic of the 10+ Must-Know Stats About Social Media and Healthcare, click here.
If you’re wondering how to maximize your medical practice’s online presence, we can help. Baker Labs specializes in helping medical practices grow by attracting new and loyal patients. With customized digital tools and strategies, we can drive your medical marketing. Contact us for a free marketing assessment of your medical practice, or for a free SEO audit of your website.