Patients are coming to healthcare interactions with the expectations of a consumer, that is, for personalized, easy, and convenient experiences. After all, they’ve been dealing with digital disruptors such as Amazon and Uber for the past decade or more and have grown accustomed to a much more consumer-centric focus. While primary care physicians like to blame these digital disruptors for the consumerization of healthcare, they aren’t the bad guys.
Instead, the trend of shifting more of the financial burden for healthcare onto patients is a stronger force for turning patients into consumers. As patients shoulder more of the cost, they want to make sure they’re getting the most value for their healthcare dollar.
Patient/consumers expect the same levels of convenience, access, and value from their primary care physicians as they get from Amazon and other non-traditional providers. If a primary care practice doesn’t offer online scheduling, today’s patient may very well switch to one that does. In fact, KPMG recently revealed in its Healthcare 2030: The consumer at the center report that 58% of millennials and 64% of GenXers value online booking of appointments to the extent that they would switch healthcare providers in order to gain that convenience.
Given the shift in power to patients, what can primary care practices do to compete with other health systems and providers in their area? How can they meet these quickly evolving expectations for digital service, convenience and transparency that will attract and retain more patients? Here are five ways to accomplish this:
1. Improve your search engine ranking: It’s not enough to have a good website to attract new patients to your practice. Physicians need to make sure their websites are discoverable. This means winning the organic search engine battle so their websites rank as high up on the first page of results as possible. To improve rankings, they should apply best practices for search engine optimization (SEO), including the use of strategic keywords, consistently updated and high-quality content, and social media.
2. Pay attention to reviews: If someone searches using the term “best primary care doctor,” Google often shows only results for businesses with a 4-star rating and above. It’s a key reason why primary care practices should monitor and respond to comments and reviews on social media and review sites. It’s also critical to set up automated review invites to help patients automatically generate more online reviews so the practice ranks higher and can find the practice online even easier. High ratings are important because physicians should actually encourage consumers to compare their practice against competitors to attract new patients.
3. Optimize the patient experience on your website: The patient journey, starting from the point of searching for a new primary care physician to scheduling an appointment, is often a major source of frustration and confusion. For instance, many websites have separate pages for finding physicians and scheduling appointments. A patient could spend time researching and selecting a physician online, only to later discover their choice doesn’t have appointment availability in the near future, which creates a frustrating digital experience.
In other instances, websites aren’t optimized for natural language search queries – those phrases and questions that mimic our everyday speech. This limitation can lead to frustration and missed opportunities to acquire new patients when they can’t find clear, concise, and accurate answers to their questions. To identify such potential problems, primary care practices should map their patient journey to what a consumer needs to do at each step of the way. Is the practice making it difficult for new patients to find the right physician? How can they streamline the process of getting an appointment with their preferred doctor?
4. Focus on conversions: It’s not enough to get healthcare consumers to a website. Once there, primary care practices need to understand whether their calls-to-action are getting consumers to act. Are the calls-to-action converting into appointments? Collecting and analyzing conversion data can help practices better understand and improve customer attraction and retention.
5. Rethink the mobile experience: As some primary care practices moved to engage consumers on their mobile devices, many launched mobile apps. The problem is that traditional mobile apps need to be downloaded and updated by healthcare consumers, many of whom don’t want to go to this level of effort. The better alternative is to use a progressive web app, which delivers an app-like experience in the mobile browser. These apps provide a fast and engaging experience with no need for the end user to download anything.
In the aforementioned Healthcare 2030 report, KPMG says that a consumer-focused healthcare industry is not only possible, but inevitable. As patients increasingly choose their providers based at least in part on convenience, they need to focus on attracting and retaining these discerning patients.
Starting with these best practices, primary care physicians can stand out from competitors to not only attract patients but retain them.
Matt Dickson is vice president of product and strategy and general manager for Stericycle Communication Solutions.
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