Patient acquisition: Why your digital presence matters

The adage, “you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression” rings true in healthcare, too.

Advances in communications technology have empowered consumers with an abundance of choice. Armed with smartphones and scrolling skills, Americans are willing to go to any lengths to find the right physician — scrutinizing negative patient ratings, navigating physicians’ websites, and poring over patient testimonials.

As a result, acquiring new patients is tougher than it was even a year ago. And patients are paying close attention to the digital “persona” that doctors exhibit. In fact, 63% of Americans said they will choose one provider over another because of a strong online presence, according to a survey of more than 1,700 adults.

Patient retention is critical — even a 5% increase in retention can boost profits by as much as 95%. But attracting new patients is equally important, given that finding a doctor is as easy as using a browser. Consequently, the first step is enticing prospective patients to engage online.

When Online Persona is a Liability (or Falls Short)

What’s the first thing a patient notices when they’re looking up a doctor online that their friend recommended, or searching for a specialist such as an orthopedic surgeon?

While Google ratings will likely be front and center, the first impression of a practice’s website will also leave a strong impression. For instance, patients will immediately notice if a website doesn’t load quickly or look modern and streamlined. They will also notice if social media accounts are outdated or poorly attended to in terms of responding to patient grievances.

It’s not atypical for one or more of these digital liabilities to go unnoticed at the average busy practice—and sabotage the best-laid efforts to attract new patients. The reality is that mishaps are often the result of underestimating the importance of managing a digital presence every day.

All too often, physicians will make the effort to launch a website as part of an online strategy, believing “mission accomplished.” Unfortunately, this approach overlooks other key components of a digital strategy such as updating their profile and information in online directories. Meanwhile, smarter and more tech-savvy physician practices are showing up on Page 1 in a Google or Bing search.

Elevating Digital Presence

Every practice is different, but the need for a strong, inviting digital media presence, or persona, is universal. When considering marketing strategies for acquiring new patients, here are five best practices for strengthening digital presence:

1. Update your profile. A makeover of your digital assets could take weeks. But what doesn’t take long – yet goes a long way, impression-wise – is an updated, consistent visual presence. Make sure your website information is current and that your professional headshot, bio, and other information are consistent across all platforms (e.g., Healthgrades, Google, etc). Consistency is the heart of effective branding, and an indicator of professionalism, so ensure branding assets – such as photographs, logos, or ‘About Us’ descriptions – are consistent across all platforms.

2. Become responsive. Fretting about online negative reviews won’t make them go away. But physicians don’t have to let them sit. Respond to the complaint with an apology, or offer to talk to the individual about resolving their concerns. And always encourage positive feedback if patients are satisfied. Many patients want to help and would be happy to leave a positive review of a business.

3. Eliminate inactive social media channels. Keeping up with social media can take hours, and many physicians neglect it. Unless you can dedicate 3-4 hours per week to posting updates, it’s better to cut down on active social media platforms. Another, and better, option is to use a subscription-based social media service to automate posts on all your channels (so you can save time by scheduling posts in advance).

4. Optimize your website. A website is one face of a practice that carries a lot of weight in terms of first impressions. It should not only blend functionality with streamlined, elegant design, but also keep up with technology specifications (e.g., mobile user interface, or UI). If a practice doesn’t work with a dedicated developer, there are third-party service providers that can help ensure a website is optimized and generating the most traffic.

5. Learn from others. While it’s a good idea to keep a running list of digital to-dos, it’s possibly more important to see what popular Dr. Jones down the street is doing well, at least digitally, to attract new patients. Is her website easy on the eyes and captivating in its meta-tag description? Is information on areas of specialization easy to find? These things are a time-consuming matter. Take note of them as you continue to develop your digital presence.

While the adage, “you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression” rings true in healthcare, there’s a lot that practices can do to improve their digital presence to acquire new patients. Practices should ensure that a digital presence is an asset, rather than a liability, and is the best reflection of the high-quality medical care.

Shawn Miele is the CEO and cofounder of MyAdvice.