As the health care consumer’s journey includes more information-gathering stops, providers must find ways to get in front of patients where they’re doing their research.

abstract of health care consumer researching potential hospitals and doctors

Do you know exactly where your patients are coming from?

In the past, the answer to this question has been relatively straightforward. The vast majority of patients come from a single source: referrals. Those referrals might originate from insurance companies, physicians or other patients, but almost every patient who walked through the door came because someone sent them.

The role of referrals has undergone a drastic change in recent years, primarily due to the proliferation of information available online. Referrals are no longer patient acquisition endgames; at best, they represent exploratory starting points, and at worst they are completely ignored. Regardless of who refers a patient to a hospital or physician, empowered patients will not make appointments until they have conducted their due diligence.

They want to know what typical patient outcomes look like. Are the most current treatment techniques used? Do philosophies of care align with their own? Many patients are also researching price points before committing to care, even when they believe their insurance plans will cover most of the cost.

Given this new dynamic in how patients shop for healthcare, providers and healthcare systems must change their patient acquisition strategies accordingly — and if you didn’t have a solid plan in place before, now is the time to create one.

1. Information Is the Foundational Building Block

The outcome is still the most critical thing to patients, and they will spend the most time looking for care that will give them the best results. Among the first things they research are the credentials of physicians and clinicians, paying close attention to medical schools attended, research conducted and accolades received. The reputation of a healthcare system or hospital is less important to them than that of the individual clinicians they visit, so be sure to highlight the experience and achievements of your physicians.

Most patients are also keenly aware that credentials alone are not adequate predictors of outcomes, and testimonials from patients that achieved positive results are highly influential. Though third-party review websites have become popular, testimonials from patients featured on provider websites are also trusted. Video testimonials, in particular, are perceived as authentic and reliable.

2. Track the Origination of Every Lead

Modern healthcare marketing campaigns involve multiple messages and channels, and it is important to isolate which messages are resonating with patients to optimize efficiency. Did that patient who just called to make an appointment land on your website from a Google search or get your phone number from one of your billboards? There’s no need to allocate any of your budget to media that is not actively driving patient acquisition, and that makes tracking leads a core aspect of your marketing program.

Unique landing pages and call tracking help you understand what media is generating incoming leads. It’s also important to analyze the quality of every lead. If most of the calls from a billboard are requests for information instead of appointments, that could indicate a change to the message is in order or potentially abandoning the channel altogether in favor of more investment in one that generates higher-quality leads. Knowing how and where to market is reliant upon understanding how well each message is performing.

3. Customer Service, Patient Experience and Engagement

Patients are faced with so many choices for health care that they are quick to abandon any option that fails to meet their expectations. Once they dial your number, complex voice navigation systems, long hold times, voicemail messages and rude office staff are hurdles that increase the odds they will exit your funnel and go to a competitor. Similarly, patients forced to wait extended periods of time in a waiting room or fill out mountains of paperwork will increasingly get up and leave, never to return. Then they will post their negative experience online and share it on social media platforms, potentially erasing much of your marketing efforts.

Service and experience are pivotal aspects of your marketing strategy, and it continues after an appointment ends throughout the entire lifecycle of each patient. Engaging patients with outgoing appointment reminders, useful information and rapid test results reinforce perceptions that they have made the right choice and keeps them from seeking care at a competing facility. Inviting them to participate in online communities and social media platforms can help keep your best patients engaged and boost loyalty to your brand. It can also turn them into ambassadors who can start more leads on the path to becoming future patients.

As insurance companies reform reimbursement structures, it will become even more important for health systems to not only acquire more patients but to attract those who are the most relevant and profitable. Developing and measuring an effective patient acquisition strategy and then nurturing and engaging leads correctly is key to keeping appointment books full without relying on waning referral traffic.

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