It is true that consumers do not shop for healthcare the same way they shop for shoes. The stakes in healthcare are much higher: healthcare consumers, or “health-sumers” know that a wrong choice can leave them with results that in a best-case scenario are ineffective and in a worst case leave them worse off than before they sought care. A quick search on the term “medical malpractice” on the New York Times reveals headlines that can easily exacerbate fears of making a poor choice when seeking healthcare.

How will today's patient find you? Leverage mobile-optimized digital marketing including geofencing.This explains why consumers have in the past put so much stock in personal referrals and conducted their own research when shopping for healthcare. They know not to trust traditional advertisements — and that’s a problem that has increasingly plagued retailers for the past couple of decades, but they have devised smarter marketing tactics to reinvent how they market to consumers. Healthcare providers are lagging behind, especially when it comes to reaching patients where they live: mobile.

The success that retailers have found using the mobile channel for marketing can be duplicated by the healthcare industry when a few modifications that address the segment’s unique attributes are put into place.

Take control with mobile from the get-go

Like retail consumers, health-sumers use mobile devices on every step of their journeys. They may use other channels along the way, but will often return in and out of the mobile ecosystem for various touchpoints along the way; many use mobile exclusively throughout the entire journey. 73 percent of health-sumers say that they they use mobile devices to search for healthcare providers, indicating that they are beginning their journeys there. This means that it is a ripe environment for providing all of the initial information that health-sumers are seeking. Making information that aids in this preliminary information seeking phase readily available on mobile channels is vital. For healthcare providers, that means listing credentials like medical schools attended, residencies, fellowships, recently published articles, and outcome statistics on mobile channels is imperative.

Take advantage of mobile’s geo-location capabilities

According to Google, queries that include the search term “near me” doubled last year. The only attribute health-sumers cited as being more important than office location is whether the provider accepts their insurance plans. Targeting nearby health-sumers is an extraordinarily important aspect of healthcare marketing that should not be overlooked. Whether searching for a clinician that is easy to visit during routine errands or looking for a physician to perform complex surgery that will require numerous follow-ups, health-sumers are more conscious than ever about selecting healthcare providers that are convenient to them so they do not dedicate inordinate amounts of time commuting to and from appointments. Tap into this market by deconstructing individual micro-markets to determine what their most searched keywords are and specific aspects of healthcare that they care most about. It can vary notably even within the same metro area.

Consumer ratings — the modern referral

All advertisers know that no marketing cuts through the noise like word of mouth, and healthcare providers know this better than anyone. Today’s consumers are not just asking for the opinions of friends; they are scouring the internet for ratings on every service provider they use. Just as sites like Yelp and Angie’s List completely disrupted how consumers shop for restaurants and contractors, doctor referral sites have done the same for healthcare. Providers can take some control of this research back by providing their own ratings and testimonials from patients and making them easily available on mobile channels. Every industry recognition, written testimonial, and video that speaks about your practice must be easily accessible to health-sumers as they use their smartphones to conduct research.

Simplify communication with health-sumers

Tomorrow's patient is looking for you today, and the majority of them are searching using their mobile device. Does your marketing strategy match up?Once consumers decide on a healthcare provider, that commitment is easily lost if they have to navigate a sea of voice prompts and sit on hold to make an appointment. Health-sumers expect to be able to use their mobile devices to do everything — find a physician, ask a question, make an appointment, and even look at lab results. Mobile marketing does not end once intent has been established; it is a continuous aspect of managing the patient relationship. Both prospective and existing patients should be able to easily make appointments using their mobile devices, view office hours, get street directions to the office, and ask questions of the staff and clinicians. Inconveniencing today’s health-sumer with roadblocks to any of these activities fuels their desire to switch to a provider that communicates with them on their own terms. Mobile-enabled calendars, email portals, and live chats are excellent modes to satisfy this demand.

Marketing that keeps the cycle moving

Healthcare is also unique in that successful service delivery is just the first step in building long-lasting and lucrative relationships with patients. Mobile-enabled marketing picks right back up immediately on the same visit through billing, payment, and follow-up appointment setting enabled on mobile devices. Health-sumers are also voracious consumers of information on topics that are relevant to them. Providers can tap into that by segmenting patients on lifestyle and medical conditions to supply them with research, articles, and tips that are meaningful and helpful. Delivering this information in a mobile-friendly way boosts the likelihood that it will be read and it is a phenomenal platform to display expertise and assure patients that they are receiving the most complete and up-to-date care.

The days of hoping to attract and retain patients based on things like listings in insurance provider directories and positive word of mouth from existing patients is no longer adequate for healthcare providers. Empowered health-sumers are using an enormous pool of information to engage in their own research and using their mobile devices to locate and digest the data that is most meaningful to them. Taking control of providing that information to health-sumers how and when they want it is one of the best things healthcare providers can do to ensure that they serve the most attractive patient bases.

This article originally appeared on The Journal of mHealth

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