Put simply, we’ve reached an era in which healthcare providers in competitive environments need to understand that digital marketing may determine whether they remain viable or go under.
The old misconceptions and excuses are fading fast: Insurance company recommendations and personal referrals don’t provide all the business that thriving practices need. The vast majority of potential patients, including older patients, do go online to research health-related concerns. Digital marketing doesn’t have to be expensive. Figuring out what’s working and what isn’t can be relatively easy. And people who are on Facebook and other sites every day do a lot more on those sites than share recipes and look at pictures of kittens.
In fact, searching for health or medical information has become the third most popular online pursuit, only trailing emails and researching products and services. The numbers are big and will inevitably get bigger. A 2017 study found that 52% of consumers already routinely go online to learn more about health concerns, treatment options and providers. Another study found that 44% of patients who researched hospitals on mobile devices ended up scheduling appointments.
It should be obvious that the number of potential patients who aren’t comfortable using the Internet is shrinking fast, and will become virtually nonexistent once Baby Boomers replace their parents and older siblings as the overwhelmingly dominant 65-and-up demographic. In fact, we’re almost there. By 2020, aging Boomers are expected to inflate the Medicare-eligible cohort by an additional 74%.
These are folks who have money, who are going to be making a lot of decisions about health care, and who are very active on social media. In fact, Boomers are more likely to share information on Facebook than any other group, recent research finds. Expect even more sharing as more and more find themselves with additional time on their hands.
That so many prospective patients are using social media and not just search engines to acquire and disseminate information about health care is highly significant. Recent research suggests that patients tend to respond favorably to providers who engage online. The study found that 57% of decisions to receive treatment at healthcare facilities were strongly influenced by the provider’s social media connections.
Moreover, 92% of consumers say they trust social media and recommendations from friends and family more than they trust any other marketing outreach.
There’s also a positive feedback loop, with most doctors now saying that the transparency fostered by social media is also leading to better care.
Hits and Myths
But misconceptions about the costs and effectiveness of digital marketing persist, says web advertising guru Chelimar Miranda, writing in Forbes.
One belief is that it’s too expensive. Digital marketing actually costs significantly less than direct mail, broadcast TV and radio, she says. And social media marketing costs less than $3 to reach 1,000 people.
On top of that, she adds, many types of programs — including pay-per-click, email marketing and social media — provide easily trackable metrics, such as the number of people who’ve seen or engaged with a given ad. And, she says, it’s demonstrably effective, often providing immediate results.
But what if it’s not working?
One of the advantages over traditional vehicles is that digital marketing campaigns can be altered in real-time if they’re not producing results.
What could go wrong?
Of course, finding the perfect approach isn’t just a plug-and-play process. To succeed, say experts, you first need to carefully define your goals and objectives. Otherwise, you’re shooting in the dark.
There are plenty of other potential pitfalls, too, including failing to adequately budget, failing to test different options before rolling out a full-scale campaign, and failing to quantify and measure return on investment.
Also important, experts underline, is to ensure that your website is easy to navigate, with clear calls to action making it easy for visitors to request appointments, pay bills and complete paperwork.
Competition can be fierce. If you’re not reaching potential prospects, or if they’re having trouble reaching you on their smartphones, laptops and tablets, the consequences can be profound.