What is “Patient Engagement” in the Digital Age and Why Does it Matter?

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Want to attract more patients to your hospital or medical practice? Give them what they’re looking for online.

Put simply, patient engagement is the practice of getting patients more involved in their health care in order to improve marketing outcomes and lower costs. In other words, solid engagement means providing the tools and resources necessary for patients need to choose you over your competition.

Although it’s a popular buzzword within the medical community, there’s nothing revolutionary about disseminating information, tips, and guides on how to get the most out of one’s healthcare. However, as consumer preferences shift and patients become more “active” than ever before, the ways we disseminate that information have certainly become more advanced. Here’s how.

Why Online?

These days, the vast majority of consumer decisions are made online, and healthcare is no exception. According to Pew Research, 77% of internet users search for medical information and compare services online before booking an appointment with a doctor. And yet a mere 14% of the medical industry’s total advertising spend was allocated towards digital marketing last year. This is not only a massive disconnect —it’s a massive opportunity as well.

As more and more people take to the web to conduct research and make decisions, medical practices and hospitals can leverage digital marketing and advertising tactics to reach the right patients with the right materials at exactly the right moments during their path to treatment.

Doing this successfully requires a thorough understanding of search engine marketing and search engine optimization tactics and best practices — more specifically, you need to be able to correlate patient search queries with patient intent. What is a patient looking for based on what they just typed into Google? Are they searching for diagnostic information or a treatment option? You need to make sure the ad or resource that pops up on their search results page corresponds to where they are in the purchasing funnel.

Cover All of Your Bases

Of course, reaching your target audience is only half the battle — in order to generate a steady stream of new appointments and maintain a solid ROI, you need to make sure you’re bolstering your ad campaign with a wide variety of high-quality online content.

This includes (but is not limited to) building a well-designed and intuitive website that’s optimized for desktop and mobile browsing; informative landing pages for things like conditions treated, FAQs, resident physicians, and locations; positive patient reviews, testimonials, and success stories, as well as links to third-party review sites like ZocDoc and Healthgrades; a robust and active social media presence across all major platforms; and regular blog publishing to keep patients up-to-date on condition-related breakthroughs, treatment options, and other general health and wellness tips.

By making a concerted effort to generate a wide range of online materials (and optimizing your keywords in accordance with patient intent), medical organizations can ensure that they properly engage prospective patients as they make their way through the funnel. By the time these patients become transactional and go to book an appointment, chances are they’ll already have established a solid affinity for your brand, giving you a serious leg up over your competitors.

Engagement in Action

For an example of the kinds of results this approach can produce, just look at Boston Children’s Hospital: Boston Children’s saw its patient services revenue increase from $1 billion in 2011 to $1.4 billion in 2012 after adjusting its marketing model — which had previously relied primarily on traditional print and TV media buys — to include online and social media initiatives. A large part of that growth can be attributed to the hospital’s strong Facebook presence, where patients are given the opportunity to share personal testimonials about their experiences at Boston Children’s Hospital.

With some simple adjustments, any hospital or medical practice can leverage good patient engagement to improve their marketing outcomes by significant margins. The key lies in understanding that all aspects of digital strategy are interconnected — by offering patients a seamless and personalized online experience, you’ll be able to secure their interest, their trust, and ultimately, their business.

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