Using Digital Technology to Boost Patient Trust

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New developments in digital technology — including the rise of health chatbots — offer innovative solutions to improve the patient experience.

At the first signs of illness, where do people turn for advice? Increasingly, patients are relying not on their primary care providers, but Google. Internet search engines are a convenient resource to help people gain a better understanding of their symptoms. But a Google search is not an official diagnosis, and patient uncertainty about online medical advice remains high.

So how can medical marketers draw users to reputable websites — and provide interested patients with trustworthy information?

A recent study from JAMA pointed to a potential alternative to typical web searches. A free chatbot, which uses AI technology to answer patients’ medical questions, was compared to internet searches of patients’ symptoms — with groundbreaking results. Here’s what medical marketers need to know about the growth of innovative digital tools, such as health chatbots, and how they can improve patient trust.

A Fresh Approach to Patient Engagement

The study aimed to determine whether patients’ uncertainty about their condition was reduced when they communicated with a free medical chatbot, rather than simply reading the first few articles that turned up in a web search. After conducting an online search, 34 percent of patients remained uncertain about what their symptoms could mean, compared to only 21 percent of patients who communicated with an AI-driven chatbot. 

The results indicate that patients found the health chatbot to be more helpful than a typical web search. Yet a high level of uncertainty isn’t the only obstacle patients encounter when they search their symptoms online. Overdiagnosis is also a common concern — using Google as their only consultation might make a minor headache sound like a brain aneurysm as patients browse through increasingly alarming search results.

According to the JAMA study, a lower perception of urgency was another major takeaway from the comparison between chatbots and web searches. In fact, after consulting the chatbot, 34 percent of users considered their condition to be less urgent than they did after using a search engine. 

Chatbots and the Future of Medical Marketing

The JAMA study indicates that digital tools like chatbots are likely to play a more prominent role in healthcare in the next several years. Medical marketers should take note that patients who use chatbots are significantly more satisfied with — and less concerned by — the results of their research.

Of course, patients with severe symptoms should consult a licensed healthcare provider to receive a proper diagnosis. Yet, for many, the internet is a useful first source of medical information, especially for users with relatively minor symptoms. As patients are often looking to determine whether their symptoms are worth a visit to their primary care provider, medical websites that integrate patient-centric tools like chatbots can help clear up this confusion.

Patients’ growing interest in finding healthcare advice online presents new opportunities for medical marketers who are ready to embrace innovation. As patients gain a better understanding of their symptoms, healthcare providers can use strategically-designed websites, empathetic copy, and targeted ads to present effective solutions. Ultimately, digital tools like chatbots have the potential to reduce patient uncertainty, boost user engagement, and increase conversions.

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