Each new generation of patients is becoming more internet-savvy, and are turning to online sources to find information about healthcare before ever seeing a doctor.
As an orthopedic surgeon, you might not treat younger patients on a regular basis unless you do sports medicine. However, even the behavior of older patients is shifting. You also can’t discount the fact that younger people may be looking online on behalf of a parent or grandparent.
You are probably well aware of all of the inaccurate healthcare information patients can find online. You’ve likely had patients bring up information they found online during office visits. It can be frustrating that patients seek information from illegitimate sources, but you can turn it into an opportunity to educate your patients. Rather than be irritated that patients seek out information online, you have to accept that this is a shift in patient behavior and address it by adapting your process. If your patients want to have healthcare information available online, you can become that source of information that patients can trust.
How do you go about educating patients in the digital era? There are a few steps you should take.
Write content that addresses your patients’ questions.
In our podcast interview with Dr. Justin Smith of Cook Children’s, he explained how critical content marketing has become to his practice. Though Dr. Smith is a pediatrician, a lot of his methods can apply to orthopedic practices, as well.
1. Identify Common Questions
First, Dr. Smith notes the common questions he gets from patients. Then, he finds a way to address those questions in the form of original content, written by either himself or someone else on staff. When those questions come up during office visits, he can address them, and then also point patients to that content as a recap.
2. Write Your Content or Outsource Writing Work
If you don’t have strong writing skills or just don’t have time to create the content yourself, you can outsource the content writing work. However, we recommend that if you do outsource the work to a marketing firm, you choose someone that understands the basics about orthopedic procedures, but also asks the right questions to personalize the content to your practice.
There are a lot of orthopedic marketing firms that can provide basic content about different procedures, treatments, and conditions, but many do not do a good job of explaining the practice’s expertise and unique approaches to treatment. There are already lots of good online sources for generic orthopedic information, but only you can explain your practice’s unique approach to treatment.
3. Add the Content to Your Website
Once your content is ready to go, you’ll need to add that content to your website so that patients can find it. Make sure to place it somewhere on your website that is easy to find. If you’re not sure where to place the content, your marketing firm (if you used one) or your web developer should be able to advise on content placement.
Find a means of distributing your educational content.
After you’ve gotten your content added to your website, you can take additional steps to get your content in front of the right patients. Your current patients may already be aware of your website, but you can also use your content to attract potential patients. There are a few different ways that you can attract new patients with your content.
If your content is well-written, easy to read (including simple language, lists, and headings), and thorough, it may begin to rank in search engines for relevant searches. Search engines look for content that is highly relevant to the search query, and locally-relevant if the search query indicates the person is seeking medical care.
To rank in locally-relevant searches, make sure your location information is easy to find on every page. You can also sprinkle information about your location into your content, as long as it fits within the natural flow of the page.
For example, if Dr. Smith in New Orleans was writing content on hip replacements, he might discuss his experience with the procedure by saying something like “Dr. Smith has 20 years of experience with hip replacement surgery and has performed hundreds of hip replacements for patients in the New Orleans area.” That sentence sounds natural, demonstrates expertise, and explains the surgeon’s location. Think along those lines when incorporating location information into your content.
It is important to note that search engine ranking can take several months to build up. If you are trying to attract new patients to your content soon after publishing it, relying on search engines might not be your best bet, even though it can be a tremendous help to your practice down the road.
Online advertising, whether through a paid search network like Google Ads or a social media network, are another way to get your content in front of potential new patients.
Paid search campaigns allow you to target searches that are relevant to the treatments and procedures covered in your content. You can also target specific locations and age groups. Your ads show up right in search results and link over to the page you choose, so this is a great chance to attract patients for highly-relevant searches and educate them with good content before they come to your office.
Social media ads don’t typically allow you to target patients seeking treatment, but they can be great for building awareness. You can create sponsored Facebook posts that link to your educational content and set the targeting so that the sponsored posts show up on the social media feeds of people in your area. Often, if someone sees the ad and thinks the content is helpful, they will share the post with their friends. This is a great way to further the reach of your content.
If you don’t want to pay for online ads, you can create a social media page for your practice (if you don’t already have one) and share the information there.
Dr. Smith has an active presence on Instagram and Twitter, in particular, which makes sense for targeting the younger parents of the children he sees in his pediatric practice. For orthopedic surgeons, we have found that Facebook is the most effective social network for attracting patients. Of all the social networks, it tends to have a higher usage among those aged 50 and older, which is often a critical age group for orthopedic practices.
If you don’t already have a following on Facebook, it may take some time to build up. However, if you take the time to regularly share useful information, including your own educational content, people will often share the posts with friends and family who might need it. No matter which routes you take to distribute your content, patients are in the habit of turning to online sources for information. Rather than a burden, this can be an opportunity for you to educate and build trust with both current and potential patients.