How Patients Find Doctors Online - Binary Fountain

November 20, 2019

How Patients Find Doctors Online

By: Kayla Zamary

Graphic of phone connecting healthcare system

Do you know how patients are finding your hospital or physician practice?

If your hospital or practice is like most others, there’s a chance you have made a few educated guesses or even compiled some data, but you probably don’t have the complete picture.

This begs the question: How much would it help your facility to fully understand how patients are finding a doctor via online search?

The most successful hospitals and physician practices know what new patients are looking for online when they are searching for a new doctor. If you put energy into the right activities you could grow your facility significantly and help more people within your community.

The Truth about Word of Mouth Patient Acquisition

 You may have heard that a word of mouth referral is worth significantly more to your business because they are more likely to actually become a patient. This isn’t wrong, but it isn’t as cut and dry as it used to be.

Today, a referral may help bring awareness about your practice, but savvy consumers still go online to find information about your practice before booking an appointment. In fact, according to the 2018 Patient Access Journey Report by Kyruus, 91 percent of patients conduct research online, even after receiving a referral for a medical provider.

In the same study, 33 percent of healthcare consumers found a medical provider on their own.

Word of mouth referrals are still really important, but many consumers today are going online to find the right medical provider. Consumers want access to convenient, cost effective and quality care and are willing to do their own research to find it.

Many times, however, patients start by researching their symptoms and not for a provider.

Patients Use Google for Symptom-based Searches

This should be no surprise, but search engines remain one of the best ways practices can improve patient acquisition.

In fact, according to Google Health Vice President David Feinberg, MD, 7 percent of the world’s searches are health related queries. That’s over 1 billion questions a day.

Similarly, The Pew Research Center has even come out with data that shows 35 percent of Americans go online to self-diagnose their symptoms.

While most of these queries are informational in nature rather than searching for a provider, it means that a large number of healthcare consumers are self-diagnosing themselves and then searching for a provider who can help them.

This hasn’t gone unnoticed by Google, who has recently made a commitment to increasing the quality of health-based search results on their platforms as well as looking into innovative ways for healthcare providers to access medical records.

There have also been numerous updates to their algorithm to make medical search results as accurate as possible. They even have come out and said all medical content should be reviewed or written by a doctor.

This means practices or medical facilities just like yours have an opportunity to capitalize on Google’s new standards as many large wellness content publishers don’t have doctors writing or reviewing content on a regular basis.

Building out quality content on your site or on YouTube can help you attract new patients just based on symptom based searches. Showing that you are an expert in your field will go a long way to building trust for a perspective patient.

Owning the Local Search Results

In addition to symptom based queries, you will want to win the local SEO battle for your specialty. This means focusing on executing all the right search engine optimization tactics to get your practice appearing on the first page.

Remember patients are looking for the following attributes when selecting a doctor:

  • Convenience
  • Cost
  • Quality of care (the patient experience)

In order to win in local search, you will need to be able to satisfy patients’expectations for these factors if you want to win their business.

Let’s break down each of these elements.

Healthcare Convenience Matters to Patients

Convenience is a combination of location and accessibility in both the real world and the digital world.

What do we mean by that?

Have you ever called a restaurant only to find out they moved locations and haven’t updated their business listing in Google My Business? You thought you could pick up pad thai on your way home, only to find out they’ve moved across town.

That’s both inconvenient and frustrating for you, the consumer.

You may not be able to change the physical location of your facility, but you can make sure your phone number, location and hours of operation are all correct so consumers know how to contact you, where you are and when you are open.

You will want to make sure this information is correct on your website and all of your local listings.

Additionally, you will want to make sure your website is user friendly, especially for mobile users. In the age of instant gratification and 4G LTE, consumers expect excellence in website performance.

If you aren’t investing in making your website easy to navigate and quick to load, you could be missing out on significant traffic and leads. According to Google, 44 percent of people who found a hospital on their platform booked an appointment.

Additionally, according the Kyruus study, most patients prefer booking an appointment over the phone instead of booking one online. This seems extremely counterintuitive with other industries continually moving towards self-serving online touchpoints instead of phone calls.

A deeper dive revealed 55 percent of patients surveyed said it was easier to book an appointment over the phone than online. This may be due to many health systems not offering self-service scheduling without having to go through a gated patient portal or their website experience being so bad users don’t want to go through the hassle of trying to figure out how to book an appointment.

If you want to win more patients, make your website and scheduling accessible and easy to understand.

Cost is Still Important to Healthcare Consumers

While convenience is probably the most important factor in how people find doctors online, cost is still a crucial factor.

For many patients, this means understanding what insurance providers are accepted for care. This means you need to clearly state what services you provide and what insurance plans you accept.

This leaves very little room for the consumer to question if you offer what they need (which they will pay for) and if insurance will cover most of the cost (how much they can expect to pay). While giving out specific pricing is unfeasible, you can do more to help people make an informed decision about their healthcare expenses.

Quality of Care and the Patient Experience

In addition to reviews being a factor in Google’s search algorithm, consumers want to know what people are saying about their experience at your medical facility and the quality of care you provide.

Google uses online reviews to determine what businesses and services will take the best care of their users and are more likely to show top rated businesses for local searches. There are a lot of variables impacting the local search engine result pages (SERPs) beyond the number and quality of business reviews, but having quality patient feedback will help your practice or hospital’s odds of ranking in search results.

Google’s algorithm is specifically looking for:

  • Number of patient reviews
  • Recency of reviews
  • Overall star rating
  • Proactive engagement by business owners (responding to reviews)

All of this can help you appear in search results, and will also help you attract new customers because healthcare consumers trust online reviews as much as they trust a personal referral.  You should be taking your online reviews seriously and monitoring them often to understand what operational improvements you can make to improve your patient satisfaction.

In general, patients look at online reviews at see how you are rated in the following areas:

  • Quality of care
  • Cost
  • Wait times
  • Experience with staff (friendliness etc.)
  • How easy it was to book appointments
  • Accuracy of diagnosis
  • Amount of time spent with patient

None of these should be surprising, but they are all important factors in determining what patients are looking for when they are researching medical providers online.

You may be saying to yourself, “I know all of this but how does this help me ensure I show up when people search for a medical provider?”

The answer is to leverage patient feedback by making the operational, technological or staffing improvements you need in order to make the patient experience as pleasant as possible. By listening to what people are saying about your business, you should be able to clearly understand what improvements need to be made.

If you follow through on what your patients say they want, you should be able to earn more quality reviews. The better reviews you have, the more likely you are to show up in search results.

It’s important anytime you receive negative feedback to view it as opportunity to improve your relationships with your patients and not as a personal attack on yourself or your business.

The ultimate benefit you should see from focusing on patient reviews is not only getting more traffic to your site, but an increase in patient retention through your efforts in putting the patient experience first and taking their feedback into account.

If you are able to utilize patient feedback effectively, you will see an increase in patient acquisition (being the kind of provider patients are looking for) while also increasing patient loyalty (being the provider patients expect).

Be the Healthcare Provider Patients Want to Find

We often forget how important choosing a healthcare provider is for a consumer.

It should be no surprise that when it comes to their health, consumers want to do their own homework and find a provider that is right for their needs. Thanks to the Internet, they have the ability to do just that.

There are many things you can do to improve your visibility for medical searches on Google and other search engines including writing quality medical content and owning your local search results through improving your online presence. This can include everything from your website performance to online reviews.

At Binary Fountain, we want to help you not only own your local search results through improving your online reputation, but also help you be the healthcare provider patients are thankful they found online.

We make managing your online reputation, listings and reviews easy with our solutions where you can monitor and respond to all of your reviews in one place. Our goal is to make it easy for you to get the actionable insights you need to improve your patient acquisition and retention.

Download one of our e-books or watch one of our webinars today to learn more about how Binary Fountain can help you take control of your online presence.


About the Author

Kayla Zamary
Marketing Manager

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