Zocdoc’s new Patient-Powered Search feature is just another example of the industry adapting to an increasingly patient-centric healthcare environment.
I’ve written a number of posts in the past about how technology is changing in light of the consumer-driven digital disruption that’s rocking the healthcare industry. From Google’s symptom search to telemedicine to value-based care, major tech and medical organizations alike are taking proactive steps to improve the patient experience and overall quality of care.
Just last week, appointment booking platform Zocdoc announced it would be rolling out a new “patient-powered search” feature that would “take the cephalgia (headache) out of finding a doctor.”
What is Patient-Powered Search?
According to Zocdoc’s press release, the new feature will leverage machine learning and natural language processing to provide a more intuitive and valuable experience for its users. The platform processes millions of searches each month for providers across more than 50 specialties. Moreover, in the past 10 years, patients have used the tool to book appointments for more than 10,000 different types of procedures.
“This is no small feat,” the company explained in a press release, “considering the healthcare industry uses academic terminology and alphabetized lists of hard-to-spell specialties to categorize and deliver care.” What’s more, 90% of Americans report they struggle to understand and navigate jargon-heavy medical speak, and often end up unsatisfied or even untreated as a result.
As Heather Mack, writing for MobiHealthNews, points out, the goal is to “take the onus off patients to know exactly what they are looking for, including proper terminology to accurately describe a condition.” The algorithms have been redesigned to understand and correctly interpret descriptions of symptoms that patients would be more likely to use, such as “my stomach is upset” or “my ankle hurts,” or account for common spelling errors with more complicated conditions and afflictions. The platform even allows patients to use emojis for specific searches, such as allergies , heartburn , and travel medicine .
According to Zocdoc, the existing “disconnect between medical speak and patients’ own colloquial language – think ‘gyno’ not ‘obstetrician-gynecologist’ – can frustrate, intimidate or even deter patients in their searches. This is especially concerning at the critical moment when patients are motivated to seek care.”
A Broader Trend
I think the above quote really hits it on the nose, highlighting the rise of the patient-centric health and wellness environment, along with the need for providers and organizations to start thinking about the overall healthcare experience from the patient’s perspective.
As Zocdoc points out, today’s patients are motivated to go online, conduct research, and make their own decisions. But you don’t have to just take the company’s word for it — look at the numbers: Google processed more than 28 billion health-related queries last year in the U.S. alone; 43% of consumers now rely on the internet as their primary resource for medical advice and information; 41% of patients say that information they find on social media influences their decision to book an appointment with a given physician or practice.
These trends represent a massive opportunity to generate new business for your medical practice or hospital, all at minimal cost. After all, patients today are taking it upon themselves to seek you out and book appointments, which means that you need to start optimizing your marketing strategy accordingly. At the end of the day, social media, search engines, and other patient-facing platforms (like Zocdoc) are effectively serving up new patients for you on a silver platter. All you need to do is provide them with the information and resources they need to seal the deal, which means it should be presented in terms they don’t need a medical degree to understand.