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Mar 31, 2022

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Pro-Tips for Acquiring Patients in a Competitive Space

Imagine a patient wakes up with unusual abdominal pain. It’s not severe enough to warrant an emergency room visit, but it’s too uncomfortable to be left unchecked. They reach for their phone and ask Google for the “best stomach doctor near me”. Up comes a forest of recommendations, including a Google Maps list of the closest providers with informational snapshots and a variety of links to third-party healthcare search sites, all canopied by paid ads for national hospital brands and health databases. Where do they click, and which provider do they settle on?

Today’s patients are now “shopping” online for physicians and providers that best fit their criteria for quality care, looking to Google more than direct referrals before booking their next appointment. As a health systems marketer, this makes patient acquisition and retention challenging. According to an NRC Health survey, 36 percent of patients are indifferent to health systems brands and will quickly switch providers if they find one that better suits their preferences.

What does it take to stand out in a crowded market where consumers have their pick of quality healthcare options? We spoke to Mike Marvin, Healthgrades’ VP of Strategic Development, to get a few tips.

Patient Acquisition — Where We Are

After almost two years of postponing appointments due to concerns about the coronavirus pandemic, healthcare consumers are ready to make their way back into the fold. A recent patient confidence study found that overall comfort with participating in medical procedures has doubled since the pandemic started, jumping from 30 percent in April 2020 to 74 percent as of February 10, 2021. In the past four weeks that number has increased even more, with nearly 80 percent of patients reporting that they’d feel comfortable visiting a specialist for treatment tomorrow, compared to 43 percent in April 2020. That’s an increase of 85 percent!1

Health systems marketers now have the opportunity to target consumers who are actively looking for care, but getting noticed is only half the battle. “It’s a re-acquisition,” says Mike Marvin, VP of Strategic Development at Healthgrades, “It’s continuing to keep a patient or consumer engaged with your health system. I think advancement in digital marketing has made it more challenging for marketers, especially on the health systems side, because there are so many different ways that a consumer can ingest care.” In a market packed with telehealth and in-person offerings that patients can shop, compare, and swap with ease, marketers must leave an impression that prospective patients can’t forget and are curious to learn more about.

Let’s circle back to the prospective patient with unexplained abdominal pain — who will they choose? It depends on the level of transparency, accessibility, and personalization they’re provided. Patients value honest reviews and provider engagement and will quickly move on if these characteristics are lackluster or lacking entirely. In fact, 89 percent of Americans admit that having a trusted relationship with their primary care physician is important to them, and 84 percent rely on online reviews to evaluate practices. Consumers also need to easily find relevant information and fast.

Convenience and accessibility are also major factors — healthcare consumers want booking an appointment to be as easy as booking a flight. “Healthcare consumers are very loyal to their calendar, and they value being able to see a provider when they want,” Marvin notes. One study found that it takes just 5 seconds before a consumer gives up on a lagging page. Static and bare site formats can also nudge patients away, especially if pages aren’t configured for mobile devices since 68 percent of consumers use them as they weigh their healthcare options.

5 Pro-Tips for Boosting Patient Acquisition

How do you tick all of the boxes on a healthcare consumer’s shopping list while maintaining their interest? Here are five marketing strategy tips you can adopt that will make your brand stand out:

  1. Commit to the Digital Sphere: According to the Pew Research Center, 85 percent of Americans are online every single day and 31 percent of respondents went as far as to say that they’re “almost constantly” online. Since the majority of the engagement process now takes place online, Marvin recommends shifting more dollars to digital since it mirrors consumer behavior. Make sure potential patients can find your hospital online and once they do, there’s an open digital front door waiting to give them 24/7 access to care.  
  2. Combine Organic and Paid Advertising: Those three ads at the top of every Google search results page are hard to miss — and that’s the point. However, you also want to leverage organic SEO tactics that will naturally connect the right patients with the right doctors. Paid ads heighten brand awareness but organic placements provide long-lasting exposure that lets patients know your brand can be trusted, so it’s best to adopt a diversified marketing approach and use both.
  3. Capitalize on Video and Social Media: Your potential patients, especially the younger ones, are likely devoting the majority of their screen-time to Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok. Why not bring your content to these busy intersections and advocate your brand there? Almost 90 percent of marketers have attributed an increase in leads to video marketing, so step outside of the box and entertain or inform prospects with bite-sized medical facts, doctor demonstrations, and Q&A sessions that will leave consumers coming back for more.
  4. Humanize Your Outreach: Consumers are real people — don’t generalize their healthcare! Publishing articles covering regional health trends or having doctors answer unique medical questions on Twitter, for instance, will establish your brand as a trustworthy source of information and advice on issues that may not be the most common but are important nonetheless. This is where social media, contact forms, and more come in handy. You can also humanize outreach by using doctor profiles to your advantage. Encourage doctors to respond promptly to patient feedback and include videos and care philosophies on well-trafficked third-party sites like healthgrades.com. These efforts give prospective patients insight into factors like a doctor’s bedside manner or how responsive they are to concerns, which can make all the difference when choosing a health system. 
  5. Constantly Evaluate Your ROI: There’s no way to know for sure if your marketing strategy is doing your brand justice if you aren’t looking at tangible numbers. Monitor analytics like cost per conversion, click rates, and demographic trends, and constantly tweak your approach to keep these numbers moving in the right direction. According to Marvin, doing so will help “streamline your focus based on how efficient a program is in terms of spending and productivity.”

Catering to the way that certain consumers narrow down healthcare candidates also matters in terms of patient acquisition because generational preferences influence user habits. A study from Etactics found that Gen Zers primarily look for digital offerings like telehealth and millennials are swayed by patient experiences and cost. Gen Xers expect convenience and excellent service while baby boomers are more moved by reputation and ratings. By tailoring patient acquisition marketing campaigns to these groups and their preferences, you can efficiently target qualified leads and communicate that their experience at your health system will be genuine, personal, and relevant, all while maximizing your budget. After all, health systems marketers are always challenged to do more with less!

Expand Your Brand with Healthgrades

Today’s consumers are taking control over their health by doing their own research and comparing healthcare providers to find the one that’s the perfect match for them. Patients don’t base healthcare decisions on PCP recommendations alone anymore, and 83 percent will still go online to read reviews about a referred provider before making a decision. With many patients content to shop around, attracting patients and maintaining their interest is tricky, but it’s not impossible. The key to boosting patient acquisition in today’s competitive market is adopting a diversified marketing strategy, building a compelling online presence, and interacting with prospective patients in ways that mirror their consumer behavior.

Every year, millions of consumers use healthgrades.com to help them find the right healthcare provider. When you partner with Healthgrades, your system will be front and center when your target audience searches for care. Nearly 70 percent of visitors who visit our provider pages book an appointment within a week,2 so don’t wait! Contact us today to learn more about becoming a Healthgrades Partner.

1Healthgrades COVID-19 Patient Confidence Study, Jan. 20-Feb 10, 2022 n=734 April 2020 n=945 .
2Healthgrades Onsite Survey, 2020