Understanding the Patient Digital Search Process

We want to know. And we want to know now. Gone are the days of anxiously waiting for a doctor to physically diagnose us. We see the slightest inkling of an unknown symptom and we hop online. Why wait, when we don’t have to?Digital Healthcare Search, Digital Marketing, Healthcare Marketing

Search is huge for the medical industry. Take a look at these stats from Google:

  • 77% of online health seekers say they began their last session at a search engine such as Google, Bing, or Yahoo
  • 72% of internet users say they looked online for health information within the past year
  • Behind using search engines and checking email, the #3 activity people do online is search for health information

The instant anyone suspects a symptom, they can turn to the web for more information. Obviously, this has led to an increase in the number of web users taking it upon themselves to diagnose their own symptoms and seek available treatments online.

There emerges a pattern in the way people search for health-related information. Each web user follows a similar patient search process while deciding if they need professional help. Understanding this path is invaluable to your healthcare marketing team. Although finding the ideal marketing balance between these four phases may take time, there are steps you can take right now to ensure that, at the very least, you’re engaging these searchers appropriately with your branded digital assets.


As the first step in the patient search process, searching for symptoms is often done with related generic keywords. Pay-per-click ads directed to a contact form won’t appeal to most searchers at this point; they’re simply on the information hunt. To capture user attention this early on in the process, you’ll need to provide them with valuable, informative content.

According to a report from Google, 51% of patients say they’d feel more valued as a patient when doctors use social media, blogs, and other digital engagement outlets. You can use optimized inbound content to draw in searchers at this stage, and then lead them further down the purchase funnel on your website.

Diagnoses (Dx)

During this stage of the search process, patients will self-diagnose their symptoms. Searched keywords become a bit more targeted, but ultimately a majority of users will still be in the learning and gathering information mode. Again, to attract these users, provide them with the information they’re looking for on your site in the form of blog posts, whitepapers or data sheets.

If these pages are optimized for SEO, they’ll appear in users’ search results. You can also promote these pages with PPC ads. If you provide users who click-through with the information they’re searching for, they’ll be more inclined to continue browsing your website and convert at the appropriate time.

Therapies (Rx)

At this point, users will begin to look for ways to remedy the pain they’re experiencing by seeking a specific treatment or therapy. Generally, search words will be centered around generic treatment descriptions, specific medical and surgery procedures or drugs used to alleviate the problem.

This is where you’ll want to place a larger focus on pay-per-click ads. These searchers will be closer to the point of contacting a practice and making and appointment, so ensuring a click-through via SEO or PPC ads is vital. You must still provide users with the information they’re looking for, but add a few more calls-to-action (CTAs) on the page or even a form field. Optimize your landing pages for imminent conversion.


This is the final phase of the patient search process in which users research the options available in their area and identify clinics, specialists or surgeons where they can get their desired treatment. These people are typically very serious about making an appointment – your practice must be visible on these searches.

When crafting inbound content for your site, you’ll want to include the keywords users search for in this phase. It will boost your SEO and put your practice in front of the eyes the patients most likely to convert. You can also utilize highly-targeted PPC ads in this phase to attract potential clients. As these clicks tend to generate the highest return-on-investment (ROI), it is here where you’ll want to focus your search engine marketing.

It’s imperative that you consider the entire patient search process when devising your digital marketing strategy. Understanding each individual phase will allow you to hone your efforts and tailor your marketing to ultimately maximize ROI.


            Targeted Medical Marketing, Digital Marketing