4 Critical steps patients take when looking for a doctor

Patients are relying more and more on technology when choosing a physician.

In today’s digital age, your medical practice no longer has the luxury of relying on word-of-mouth advertising to drive new business. Instead of trusted family, friends, or neighbors, Google has taken over as the chief authority on many aspects of life — including where to find the best local medical and dental practices.

Beyond optimizing your Google My Business profile to stand out across the variety of ways Google displays your practice information in searches, understanding the patient search journey is critical to get found and grow your practice.

Three-quarters of prospective patients turn to the web to find a healthcare provider, and the “patient journey” has become a buzzword among healthcare executives and medical marketers. The patient search journey specifically refers to when, where, and how patients search for healthcare information online, and which factors drive their choices. Knowing the sequence of patient actions and preferences along the patient search journey can help guide you to attract more patients.

1. The First Question Patients Ask

The patient online search journey most often begins with a question: Where is the nearest urgent care center? What is this rash on my hand? Who is the best OB/GYN downtown? Which local dentists offer cosmetic teeth whitening? Your practice must have a thorough understanding of what patients search for that is pertinent to your specialty, and what questions patients ask most often.

The most common searches include medical conditions, symptoms, procedures, and surgeries. When you have the answers to these questions on your practice website, the likelihood of a patient landing on your website increases during their initial search.

2. Personal Research

Not all prospective patients actively look for a healthcare provider initially, but you can have the answers to commonly asked questions available on your website, related to your procedures and treatments, or particular symptoms or health conditions. Some search examples may include: How to treat X?; What is Y procedure?; How long is recovery for Z?.

Even when prospective patients don’t search for a doctor in their queries, their search for information can still bring them to your website. Cater to the patient search journey and optimize your site by populating it with comprehensive information about the conditions you treat and the services you provide. Ideally, create at least one page for each service you offer.

3. Provider-Specific Research

When a patient finds your practice, they look closely at your online reputation and reviews from other patients. Healthcare practices with more online reviews, and with higher quality reviews, typically achieve better organic search result rankings. To improve the quantity and quality of your online reviews, consider sending automated patient satisfaction surveys to patients who’ve had a recent appointment. According to PatientPop research, patients who are asked for feedback are 2.3 times more likely to proactively submit an online review via popular review sites such as Google, Yelp, and Healthgrades.This tactic can help influence prospective patients to choose your practice.

When a patient visits your website, make a great first impression by highlighting your exceptional care and services, and the reputation of your providers. On each page, establish online authority for each service and align your website with the keywords that patients use during a search for information.

After you establish a favorable impression, offer an easy-to-navigate experience. When answering frequently asked questions from patients on your website, use the words and phrases they use — even if they’re not clinically correct. Patients are more likely to take action if your site offers an easy-to-navigate experience that includes online scheduling and click-to-call for mobile users.

To further capitalize on a provider-specific search, maintain a blog on your practice website to share timely insights and guidance. Also, keep patients engaged through regular social media posts, and claim and update your profiles on each healthcare directory website where your practice appears.

4. Evaluation and Decision

Once a prospective patient has done their initial research, they will evaluate options and then make a final decision on their choice of practice and provider. Evaluation steps might include a check to see which providers are covered by their insurance plan and in-network. When prospective patients land on your site through an insurance plan directory, engage them and prevent them from going elsewhere by offering doctor bios (consider video), patient testimonials and reviews, and a comprehensive overview of your services.

To bring the prospective patient to your practice, your call to action (CTA) for appointment scheduling should be readily available and easy to find and navigate. In 2019 research from Accenture, 68 percent of patients said they are more likely to choose providers who offer the ability to book, change, or cancel appointments online. Make appointment scheduling simple and the follow-up accommodating.

Once booked, offer your newly acquired patients digital tools including automated appointment reminders, text messaging with your practice, and telehealth options when appropriate. . Responding to the digital preferences of your patients will prevent appointment no-shows and demonstrate your commitment to patient convenience.

Now that you know the sequence of patient actions and preferences, your well-planned tactics will help patients make the best decisions for their healthcare and put your practice at the forefront of their options.