The healthcare sector is excellent at constantly evolving to keep up with new science and technology, but it sometimes struggles to keep up with patient expectations.

What's your organization's consensus on the state of your healthcare marketing?Providers over the past few decades that did not change their approaches to serve empowered patients who wanted to have active voices in their own treatment plans found themselves forced out of the profession. And that shift was peanuts compared to what is happening now.

Armed with more information than ever before, today’s patients have tremendous options for treatment — and they aren’t afraid to use them, publicly blasting providers that didn’t meet their expectations along the way. These “health-sumers” shop for healthcare the same way they would shop for a new car or sofa: They research data, read the opinions of others, check prices, and sometimes even interview providers before selecting them. Referrals from insurance companies or other physicians are no longer adequate to keep waiting rooms filled with patients.

Healthcare providers must become active participants in optimizing their own businesses. That means marketing to consumers and controlling the messages that bring the most appropriate patients through the door for long-term relationships. It’s a big step for a sector where any form of advertising was considered taboo just a few years ago, but it is highly effective and not as difficult as perceived. Seven easy tips will get you on your way.

1. Get social with patients.

No form of marketing is as credible as word-of-mouth between consumers, and those conversations are taking place on social media platforms; 78% of all Americans over 12 years old have social media accounts. If you’re not there, you have no voice in their conversations. Facebook groups, Twitter hashtags and posting articles on LinkedIn are all examples of ways you can engage consumers on social media channels.

2. Market physicians, not just practices.

Most patients select doctors based on a recommendation for the actual physician; the healthcare practice is largely immaterial to them. But most marketers are charged with marketing practices and not individual physicians. A large part of any practice’s marketing effort should be based on the doctors that practice there. Make sure to give every physician an individual web page that highlights professional accomplishments, areas of interest, and medical philosophy. Don’t be afraid to make it personal.

3. Focus on your neighbors.

Data from Google says that queries including the term “near me” doubled last year. Geography is extremely important to patients and location is one of the first things they look for when selecting a physician. Make sure that your practice turns up when they search this way by creating unique URLs for each office location and putting a locator tool on your main page so patients can easily find the office closest to them. Avoid wasting time marketing to consumers that are too far away to become patients.
healthcare marketing

4. Answer the phone with a live person.

Would you believe that an enormous aspect of patient acquisition is answering the phone? It’s simple, but so many practices have become mired with automated greetings and voice prompts. Patients today have easy access to large lists of providers, and it’s easier for them to hang up and call the next provider than to navigate through a complicated phone maze just to get an appointment. When they do that, all of the marketing efforts that brought them to your front door become wasted instantly. Offices that answer the phone on the first attempt have conversion rates that are 73% higher than those that don’t. Hiring a live person to answer the phone can be the most important marketing investment that you make.

5. Speed is essential.

Consumers used to ordering everything on their phones have little patience. Every minute you make them wait risks losing them, so streamline everything. Email them onboarding forms so they don’t have to fill them out on-site and send them bills that they can pay electronically. It’s also vital to keep wait times to a minimum — many patients will get up and walk out of a waiting room if kept there too long. Not only are they likely never to return, they will share the story of their miserable extended wait time at the disorganized office with friends and online. If things are running behind, notify patients so they can adjust what time they arrive at the office.

6. Let happy patients speak for you.

Authentic video testimonials from patients on your website hold high value in persuading consumers to become patients. They qualify attributes patients look for like bedside manner, respect and outcomes. And 79% of consumers say they actually trust testimonials as much as personal recommendations. You can also expand reach by using the internet’s second most popular search engine to your advantage: It’s YouTube.

7. Measure marketing outcomes.

Healthcare success is measured through outcomes, and marketing should be evaluated the same way. Build metrics into everything you do so you can know what is working and adjust course when necessary. Tools like web analytics, call tracking, and marketing automation can help you put numbers to campaigns and calculate ROI on every aspect of your marketing strategy.

Patients often visit the physicians they like for years — even decades. The lifetime value of a single patient can be immense and far outweighs the cost of attracting a new patient. Investing in enhancing patient experience yields tremendous ROI, so be cautious of being penny wise but pound foolish when it comes to improving it. Attracting and retaining the right patient population is key to the success of your healthcare practice and is largely dependent on keeping up with the most effective ways to satisfy their evolving expectations.

This article first appeared on Becker’s Hospital Review.

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