Although many ortho, spine, and neuro practices get patients through word of mouth and referrals, an ever-increasing number of patients still go online to get more information. We also have to consider the patients who didn’t get a referral from another doctor, friend, or family member, perhaps because they moved to a new city or didn’t know anyone with experiences in your specialty. They are perhaps a smaller group of people, but they are also highly likely to search online.
By understanding where and how patients search online, practices can focus on how to show up in those searches more often. This will help patients who were referred to you feel confident in moving forward with the appointment, and it will help patients who have never heard of you get to know your practice and how it can help. Think of it as an insurance policy to make sure the patients who find you or hear of you follow through.
Now, let’s take a look at the top ways patients search online and what practices can do to make sure patients find them in each of these places.
1. Search Engines
When you are trying to find information about anything online, search engines like Google are usually the place to start. This is no exception when patients are searching for a doctor. Patients may consult several online sources when looking for a new doctor or researching a referred doctor, but search engines are often the starting point.
The use of search engines to find or research a doctor is only increasing. A survey conducted by Binary Fountain found that patient usage of search engines to find a doctor increased 60% from 2017 to 2019. While just 38% said they used search engines to find a doctor in 2017, 60% used search engines in 2019. That is quite an increase in just 2 years!
So, how does a practice ensure that their doctors show up in relevant search results? A large part of it is understanding how patients search for a doctor online and creating search engine optimization (SEO) strategies based on that. A 2018 report by Kyruus broke down how patients tend to search and and get information on search engines:
- 68% of patients search for a doctor with “near me” or “near town/city” included
- 40% use a provider’s profile listing (the “featured snippet” directly within Google results) to get information about a provider
- 39% click a link in the results to a health system or hospital’s website
- 30% click a link in the results to a healthcare-specific listing/review site (like Zocdoc or Healthgrades)
- 19% use the Google Maps mobile app (or a similar mobile app)
- 14% user Google Maps within the browser
As you can see, while search engines are often the starting point for how patients find information on a doctor, there are other components of online search that you have to consider. While it is important to focus on your search engine ranking as a first step, you should also optimize for the other avenues that patients can use to find information.
As you optimize for search engines, you might find this resource helpful: 5 Key SEO Elements to Retain & Improve Your Search Ranking
2. Review Sites
While many providers lament the fact that they can be reviewed online like a restaurant, surveys show that review sites are here to stay and are an increasingly important factor in a patient’s decision-making process.
The same 2019 Binary Fountain survey explored how patients consider online feedback on a provider as part of their decision-making process. They found that 75% of patients are influenced by online feedback when choosing a provider. Furthermore, 60% of patients check online reviews for a provider, even when they have been referred. In fact, the survey found that “comments from other patients have become the second-most important factor when choosing a physician.” This is second only to recommendations from friends and family. Fortunately, there are ways to optimize your presence on these review sites so that potential patients get a great initial impression, and it can even help with search engine ranking.
What’s the secret? Volume. As they say, there is strength in numbers. When you don’t actively solicit reviews from your patients, what you will get is often: a.) very few reviews, and b.) a higher percentage of negative reviews. Patients usually aren’t motivated to go online and leave a review on their own unless they are either very pleased or very upset (and it tends to skew more to the latter).
However, if you ask your patients for review, you’ll find that most are more than happy to do so, because they are happy with the care they received. If you make it easy for them to do it, most will happily post a review for you. And that’s how you build volume. Once you’ve got a high volume of positive reviews, those few negatives don’t look so bad anymore, and your star ratings go up. They can even lend some credibility to the positives by showing that you aren’t actively trying to suppress the negative comments.
There are several tools that you can use to collect patient reviews in your office, like our Reputation Marketing service, or text and email links to online surveys to boost your numbers. We recommend choosing the option that best fits with your practice’s workflow, because consistency is key.
3. Social Media
As we all know, social media can be a bit of a minefield when it comes to healthcare information because so much of it is incorrect and unvetted. Nonetheless, it is still a tool that patients use when searching for a new doctor. The Binary Fountain survey found that patient usage of social media to find a doctor increased 621% from 2017 to 2019, from 7% in 2017 to 51% in 2019. Furthermore, patient reviews on social media platforms more than tripled from 2017 to 2019.
One way that doctors can get in front of patients on social media is to be that trustworthy source of information. A lot of misinformation is being shared on social media, but you can combat that and build trust with potential patients by sharing good information. A report by Weber Shandwick found that 83% of people seeking health information are concerned about “incorrect or misleading medical information.” In fact, only 35% said that the information was mostly accurate in their experience. However, 43% said that they would find social media information more credible if it was cited by a medical professional.
You can post content on your social media linking to your website, blog, or other trustworthy sources, making it easy for others to share vetted information. If you don’t have much of a social media following, another option would be to run ads targeting patients in your area. On social networks like Facebook and Instagram, these ads show up as sponsored posts, so potential patients see them as they are scrolling through their feeds.
4. Map Listings
For some patients, location is key. That is why it’s important to make sure that your map listings are up to date so that you will show up in the map listings for locally-relevant searches. Local listings are one of the first things that we set up for a practice after their website launches, because it is a foundational aspect of online marketing for a medical practice. You can use distribution services like Moz Local or Yext to make this process easier, or you can individually claim and update all of your online listings. Just make sure you keep that information as consistent as possible.
Also, simply having listings on all of the top map sites/apps isn’t enough. To make your map listing stand out, you need to fill out as much information as possible. This includes setting your specialty category, linking to your website, adding your hours of operation, full contact information, services, and photos. Some map listings, like Google, even have additional features like the ability to add direct links to your appointment request form and the ability to collect reviews. Providing as much information as possible gives your practice the greatest chance to show up in local map results.
In Google search results, only the top 3 map results are shown in the featured snippet at the top of search results, so this effort is especially critical if a patient uses Google Search to find map listings. Even if a patient goes directly to Google Maps via a desktop or mobile app, it can be easy for your map listing to get lost in the long list of options for a search like “orthopedic surgeon near me” if your listing doesn’t show up near the top.
5. Voice Search
Voice search is another method of online search that has increased in popularity. Beyond in-home assistants like Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home, many new devices like laptops, smartphones, smart watches, and even vehicles are equipped with voice capabilities. In the Binary Fountain report, voice search was another search method for finding a doctor that experienced tremendous growth, from 4% in 2017 to 31% in 2019.
Optimizing for voice search is a bit different than traditional search. When a search is performed by voice, it’s usually phrased differently than it would be if the person typed it into a search engine. Voice search tends to be more conversational and is often phrased in the form of a question. To optimize your content for voice search, you have to work in a more conversational approach. You must “speak the language” of your patients. This means considering how your patients might talk about their symptoms or conditions, and how they might ask questions. Use that type of phrasing in your content, where appropriate.
FAQ content, in particular, can work well for doctors with regard to voice search. Since voice searchers are more likely to search with questions, this type of content aligns very well with common voice search phrases, making your content more likely to be featured as a search result.
6. Mobile Devices
Finally, we have to consider how patients search on mobile devices. Patients can use any and all combinations of the aforementioned search strategies to find you, so why are we singling out mobile? Frankly, because in our experience a surprising number of practices do not have websites that are well-optimized for mobile users, yet an ever-increasing number of patients are using mobile. Over the hundreds of websites we have managed for ortho, spine, and neuro practices, most have an average of 40-60% of their traffic coming from mobile.
Even if your website is technically “responsive” or has a mobile version, there are certain quirks with mobile usage that your website developers may not have considered. Some website designs and content layouts just don’t translate well for the mobile user. Things like speed, image usage, link/button size, how your menus are displayed, and your calls to action all matter here. It should be just as easy for patients to find the information they need on your website and how to contact you on mobile as it is on desktop, and that is often not the case.
Not only is this a critical factor in helping patients connect with you on mobile, but it’s also a factor in helping patients find you in the first place. Google is more likely to rank your site higher in mobile search results if your website is mobile friendly.
As you can see, there are a lot of ways that patients can search for and find you online. Even practices that get most of their patients through word of mouth have good reason to optimize for all of the ways patients might search online. Just like a patient might seek a second opinion on a medical diagnosis, they are increasingly seeking a second opinion of sorts online when a doctor is recommended to them.
You can make sure those referred patients–plus the ones who don’t know about you–feel confident in their decision to make an appointment if you put the right information online.