How Patients Shop Today Posted by Lena Kelley | 6.1.15 1:39pm

There is no denying that the way people shop for healthcare has dramatically changed in the last several years, and most people would point to the same reason—the birth and growth of the internet. The maturation of search engines has created a brand new landscape that hospital marketers have yet to fully conquer. While this new frontier provides exciting opportunities for those who are willing to take hold of new solutions, some will inevitably be left behind in the remains of what once was standard practice, including hospitals.

You may be thinking that the model for bringing in patients will always be different than the model for converting consumers. Though this is traditionally true, the lines are continually being blurred in this new age of the internet. Yes, there will always be a distinct difference in how healthcare providers must market and advertise themselves, but the consumer mindset has quickly trickled into, and certainly impacted the patient mindset.

Seeing the Internet as an Obstacle that Encourages Growth

There are two main obstacles that the internet creates for healthcare providers just as it does for retailers: the patient-customer wants to see a verified presence of your brand/hospital before they buy and they are likely going to go to an online source before—or even instead of— they go inside your doors. Just as Amazon and other online marketplaces have created some major challenges for retailers, online health resources have created some competition for hospitals. While patients aren’t curing all their problems through a computer screen, this new online-search-first-mentality is a crucial part of the new patient mindset that greatly impacts how you need to market your healthcare facility.

How to Win Back Patients from the Internet

We all know it happens. A person starts to feel a little achy or notices a strange lump developing on their arm. What do they do? Call their doctor and make an appointment, right? Well, no. A majority of patients are now more prone to try to solve or identify their medical conditions on their own by using resources they find over the internet. The new, “empowered patient” often falls into the dangerous self-diagnosing trend that encourages a person to use what they learned over the internet in just a few hours of browsing over the knowledge that doctors spend years harnessing.

True, a patient isn’t likely going to pass up going to the hospital for their broken arm after reading up how to make a splint on the internet—what they are going to do, however, is look at the source where they read about bone fractures as a trustworthy authority, one that they will come back to time and time again if the content was solid and engaging.

The main problem here is not patients trying to cure or fix themselves, but trying to empower themselves with knowledge. In fact, this problem is actually not a problem at all, but a solution for healthcare providers. Instead of trying to dispel the internet-first-mindset in patients, healthcare providers must be willing to embrace it. You need to take advantage of this new “empowered patient” and give them that compelling, unique, resourceful, and informative content they searching for on your website, blog, and social media profiles. This not only helps with standard SEO practices and search engine ranking, but more importantly, makes you an authoritative source in that patient’s mind.

Your content cannot be stuffed with keywords and marketing ploys that don’t get the patient anywhere. It must be helpful, valuable, and stand out amongst the rest of the information internet.

Capitalizing on the Resources Patients Use

Healthcare providers need to get in on the social media action. Patients aren’t going to trust you—or even find you for that matter—if you don’t meet them where they are. Where is that exactly? Yelp, Google+, Facebook, Twitter, and the countless other forms of social media that are just waiting to be harnessed by your hospital or office.

Now, let’s talk about that website of yours. You may have the best doctors in their field who have been ranked the top in the nation, but how is a potential patient going to find that information? You already know the answer: the internet. If you don’t put it there for them to find, they won’t ever see it. You need a platform where your recognitions, services, and selling points always stand out. You need a first impression—also known as a website in the internet age. This hospital website must be updated frequently, redesigned as modern styles change, and continually serve as a platform for interaction that ultimately points potential patients through your doors.

So what if you’ve already set up all those social media profiles and simply aren’t seeing any difference? What if you already feel like your website is cutting-edge and it’s still not getting any visitors? Do you give up on the internet takeover?

Remember, the internet isn’t simply going to step aside and let you shine through as the instant leader on search engines and social media platforms. You have to earn it. You have to give patients something to share, like, retweet, and remember. If your content and posts are not rich in valuable and unique information that sets you apart as an innovative, social media savvy healthcare provider, you are just going to create more online noise that patients will skip over.