Zuber Sheikh, MD, Rank My Business, India notes that consumer behaviour in the health segment has begun to mirror that of other more ‘commercial’ segments, creating new challenges and opportunities for healthcare service providers today. He gives some insights and strategies on how healthcare providers can upgrade their digital game
The last few years have witnessed a drastic change in consumer behaviour across almost all aspects and spheres of life in India – right from shopping, eating, learning and entertainment to communication, travel, daily commuting and more. The wide adoption of technology, even in semi-urban and rural areas has been a huge contributor to these changes, and there are very few areas which are really left untouched by change.
Healthcare is one such area which has seen some profound changes, both on the service delivery as well as on the consumer or patient fronts. In fact, it is very interesting to note that the consumer behaviour in the health segment has begun to mirror that of other more ‘commercial’ segments, creating new challenges and opportunities for healthcare service providers today.
Key consumer trends shaping up in healthcare
The new healthcare consumer is a lot more active and empowered. His expectations have changed, and he is also a lot more demanding. Rising levels of health consciousness as well as easy access to technology-enabled information is driving more awareness and involvement in all healthcare choices.
It is not uncommon for these consumers to voluntarily seek out health information online – whether it is for symptoms and their likely causes, the different treatment modalities for specific conditions or even about the different healthcare providers available in their vicinity. It is not surprising therefore, that they no longer blindly accept whatever they are told. They read up online reviews and ratings through web and social media searches to make better healthcare choices.
When it comes to high risk or high investment treatments like cosmetic treatments and other surgical treatments, patients will spend even more time and effort in looking up past patient experiences and case studies before making their final choice. It therefore wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that digital content plays an integral role in the healthcare decision process.
Why healthcare providers cannot ignore digital marketing
The traditional role of doctors and hospitals as key decision makers is changing, as patients seek more transparency, accountability and convenience. At the same time, the popularity and dependence on traditional marketing methods is also declining, as people spend more time online. This adds an increased task for this sector to build and sustain an online credibility and reputation, and to create an efficient online means of interaction with current and prospective patients, to even be shortlisted for consideration.
Gone are the days when healthcare providers could solely rely on word of mouth referrals for increasing awareness and patient appointments. As per a study, turning to Google for health information is one of the most popular behaviours seen in the recent past. Self-diagnosis through online research is an alarming trend, but it seems like it is here to stay. And the humble search engines have now become the starting point for this behaviour. In fact, over 75 per cent patients are said to have used a search engine for health centric research before going ahead to book an appointment.
Moreover, not only has digital usage increased, with smart phone ownership and internet access, but more and more Indians are spending more time online. Like with other categories of businesses, it is absolutely imperative to be present where your prospects are, which in this case is online.
Some basics for healthcare providers to up their digital game
Whether you are an independent healthcare provider or even a large multi-speciality hospital today, you would already know by now that it is not enough to just have a basic functional website and a Facebook page. Just as it is a given to be updated with the current consumer behaviour on digital and have a holistic digital marketing approach to cover all your digital bases, and build a solid foundation for your brand online. Apart from a well-built responsive website, here are some of the most important basics, which if done well, can help you stay at the top in the digital realm.
Some of the most important basics, apart from a responsive and well-designed website would be:
Search Engine Optimization (SEO), including local SEO
SEO is a wonderful way to gain visibility on the search engine results page, for the right reasons. We already know that most health centric searches start off on the search engine, and if you can be seen as a solution provider to the health queries being asked, you will be able to attract a lot of new prospective patients at a relatively lower patient acquisition cost compared to traditional marketing. Healthcare SEO should also focus on local SEO tactics to increase their visibility for their home suburbs during location based searches like “GP near me” as well as voice search optimisation and featured answers for specific health queries.
Social media marketing
Social media offers wonderful platforms for you to not only interact and engage with current and potential patients, but also build your brand and drive more visitors to your website. Sharing updates about new health research and discoveries, offering health management tips and resources, sharing patient testimonials, answering queries and offering support can all add up to building more credibility and trust for your brand online. Consumers exhibit distinct behaviour and preferences on different social media platforms, and your marketing strategy should reflect that. It is also recommended to explore paid marketing for increased visibility and reach.
Content marketing is one of the keys for effective SEO and SMO, and is an important tool to establish digital domination today, while the healthcare sector is relatively nascent online. Creating and sharing content in different formats – blogs, videos, case studies, social media stories, infographics, webinars, ebooks, guides, articles, press releases and more can all help your practice stand out from your competition. Your consumers are hungry for quality content, and if you are able to provide that in an easy to access manner, then you are sure to earn a lot of valuable digital real estate, and establish a strong position in your consumers’ minds. Content is king, and rightly so!
Search Engine Marketing (SEM)
Also commonly known as pay-per-click or PPC marketing, SEM is a tactic through which you can have your practice be visible at the moment when your consumers are looking for you. It is one of the best and quickest ways to be seen by high interest prospects, and given that so many people seek health related information online, SEM can greatly benefit almost all types of practices. The difference between this and SEO is that SEO is a long term exercise, whereas SEM can give you quicker results for an immediate traffic boost. Well-crafted ad messages can spur your consumers to immediate action, whether it is giving you a call or sharing their contact details so that you can stay in touch with them in the future.
Online Reputation Management (ORM)
Widespread adoption of social media has also seen a rise in people sharing their experiences with brands and businesses online, and the same holds true for the health sector as well. People are less inhibited about sharing about their health and related experiences – both the good and the bad. Just as in real life, so in digital life – good patient reviews will work like word-of-mouth referrals and get you more patient inquiries, while negative experiences receive more prominence over positive ones and spread faster, harming your online reputation. Given that the healthcare industry operates on trust, keeping an eye out for both types of conversations and try to improve the patient experience even after a negative review. Doing this is akin to creating good word-of-mouth online, and earning precious goodwill. At no point should we avoid or remove negative reviews, as that can snowball into an even bigger controversy.
Now that you have read through some of the absolute basics of digital marketing for healthcare professionals, clinics and hospitals, the next question on your mind would probably be how much investment is required, and how long will it take to see results. While digital marketing is usually a fraction of the cost of traditional marketing methods, how much you invest will completely depend on the kind of results you want to achieve.
Depending upon your digital marketing strategy, the timelines for organic efforts like SEO could take anywhere between six to eight months for a new website. If you are seeking quicker results and do not mind a higher investment, then paid marketing like Google and Facebook Ads is what will give you quick results. It helps to partner with a specialist healthcare marketing digital agency to help you better manage your online presence. But all said the verdict remains that digital marketing is a must for healthcare providers to compete in this rapidly changing landscape – to reach out, attract and retain new patients.