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The world has changed for healthcare providers, with patients now more willing to shop around for healthcare. As patients are now required to financially cover a greater amount of their own medical treatment, they are changing how they utilize their healthcare services. They are now more likely to read online reviews, compare prices as well as use the internet to research possible treatment options.

This means that every healthcare clinic or medical practice needs an online marketing plan. Gone are the days of simply picking the first physician listed in their participating health insurance plan. The delivery of healthcare in the United States is part of a larger marketplace, with tech giants and financial institutions entering this market.

Healthcare providers need to realize that they are a specialized business, so there are some basic marketing questions which they need to answer. If doctors ignore these questions, their chances for success are greatly diminished. Here are three basic questions that online marketing approaches for medical practices should address:

Question #1 – Can patients find you?

Phone books have gone the way of cassette tapes and VHS. Simply setting up shop, getting in network with a couple insurance providers; and then waiting for patients to find you is risky. Many independent and smaller medical practices already face significant competition.

For this reason, smaller practices need online visibility that allows them to show up in online search engine results. A medical practice or healthcare agency may appear in online searches, but the specific online listing does not appear until the 3rd or 4th page of the search engine results pages. The two primary ways to create a footprint online are accomplished through the use of Pay Per Click (PPC) services and Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

PPC means that you actually pay a search engine to display your listing and ad first on the search engine results page (SERP). There are actually many different types of paid online advertising, with Bing, Twitter and Facebook all offering unique PPC options. However, the most popular PPC platform is Google’s AdWords.

In order to use PPC services though, an advertiser should already have a stable online listing. This is why a good marketing approach is to use PPC along with SEO. PPC advertising is fairly quick to initiate due to fact that online ads just require money. Once the ad is created and submitted, and Google or Facebook are paid; the PPC ads will display during searches.

In comparison, SEO advertising is a slower more organic process. However, it is also usually a more affordable advertising option. At the most basic level, SEO is the process of allowing search engine bots to discover, read and index your website. SEO practices can become very complex, but for most smaller to medium-sized healthcare clinics, a more specific type of SEO is required. What is needed in these cases is an approach known as local SEO.

An example of local SEO means that if you are a health professional who operates a practice in Columbus, Ohio; you do not care if your office listing shows up for people in Seattle, Washington. Most, if not all, of your patients will be within a 30-mile radius from your practice. Healthcare providers want people who will actually use their invaluable services.  

Healthcare providers need to have search engines list who they are, their medical specialty, where they are located and how to contact them. Much of this information is included in what is known as their NAP (name, address and phone number). If healthcare providers want to increase their number of patients, they need more local traffic to their local online listings. This means having a well-optimized website that local internet users can find during an online search.

If a medical practice or healthcare agency does not exist online, they are basically invisible. Providers need to make sure that their websites are optimized for local searches, and that their medical practices are properly listed on local review sites. This should include contact information correctly displayed in a prominent location on their website as well as social media profiles. All websites should display properly on mobile browsers (smartphones) and load quickly.

Question #2 – What is the quality of your online information?

All of the information in your online listings should be correct. Missing addresses and outdated, non-working phone numbers will only frustrate prospective patients. Every online listing of your medical practice’s NAP should match. In addition, your practice needs to have a professional looking website that shows your practice in the best light.

Modern websites should load quickly, function in nearly all browsers and look good on any size computer screen (desktop, tablet or smartphone). Good websites will also contain up-to-date blog articles and include relevant social media channels. However, detailed conversations with patients through social media is not recommended due to modern HIPAA requirements. But, active blogs and social media channels are a great way to expand a medical clinic’s online presence.

Quality online information for a medical practice also includes up-to-date map listings. The most popular of these listings is Google Maps. Mapping services offered through Google or Bing, allow medical practices to list their website and NAP alongside their location on the map. This valuable function also provides patients with driving directions to the medical practice.

Question #3 – What does your online reputation look like?

Online reviews are now part of the overall patient experience. A practice’s reputation encompasses everything that happens to patients once they arrive in a healthcare provider’s office. The overall quality of care, wait times, how patient payments are processed – the total experience reflects on a medical provider’s practice. The better patients feel about a medical practice, the more likely they are to return as well as refer the practice to their family and friends.

Nobody wants to have negative comments said about them. This is particularly true for healthcare professionals, who by the very definition of the term, work in a helping profession. Yet, it is inevitable that healthcare providers will eventually receive negative online reviews. No one is perfect.

For healthcare providers, two of the more well-known review websites are healthgrades.com and vitals.com. Other general review websites include Google Local, Yelp and Yahoo local. Whether providers know this or not, they likely already have an online reputation. They are likely already listed on the previously mentioned online rating and review websites.

Reviews from these websites are often the first impression that potential patients have of medical offices or healthcare agencies. Any negative reviews, whether justified or not, will scare prospect patients away from a medical practice. A 2017 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that nearly 60% of patients stated that online reviews are important when choosing a physician.

Some healthcare professionals find it difficult to respond to negative online reviews. However, the key to handling negative reviews is to respond to them as quickly as possible and view them as vital feedback for a practice. The negative review may actually point out some very valid problems in a clinic or agency’s patient experience. You should thank reviewers for their honest feedback and tell them that you have remedied the problem.

Keep in mind, if the review is specific to a patient, you should not have the conversation online. Due to privacy concerns and HIPAA regulations these conversations should be over the phone or in person. Responding to negative reviews is crucial in order to demonstrate a medical practice’s commitment to their patients.

For positive reviews, healthcare practices should sincerely thank patients for taking the time to post a review and recommend the practice. Marketing efforts for a medical practice or healthcare agency take time and can create challenges. However, it is a necessary and important task if a clinic or practice is to survive.

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