Ep. 28 Practice Marketing Minis – How The Patient Journey is Transformed By Digital Marketing

by | Apr 20, 2022

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Management of our daily lives seems to have converged into one handheld device where many platforms have a commercial purpose, and now we find healthcare heavily impacted by consumerism. eCommerce and brick-and-mortar retail are in a constant race for consumer loyalty by an insistence on creating a superior customer experience. As consumers become increasingly acclimated to a digital world that makes everything quicker and easier, patients will desire the same conveniences with their medical care. Meanwhile, healthcare and commercialization have come together to form retail clinics, and now eCommerce giant Amazon is joining these competitive threats with the inception of the app-based telehealth platform AmazonCare.  

A world transformed by the app-based lifestyle means revisiting the patient journey and acknowledging how consumerism has impacted many of its aspects. The digital patient journey is a Google search for self-diagnosis, finding the right provider to meet specific needs, reassuring patient reviews, and this comes full circle when a patient pays it forward with a new review to help the next new patient. While the fast-paced world of digital marketing driven by technology might feel invasive, there are key benefits to take from this development including workflow streamlining and a better engaged patient population. 

In this episode, hosted by Celina DeFigueiredo-Dusseau, InPractice Technology Consultant, we redraw the patient journey in a way that helps providers come to terms with how a patient’s medical care and their digital life are no longer separate experiences. Though healthcare professionals are not in the business of digital marketing, digital marketing is certainly in their business these days. This awareness can help providers plan their engagement strategy, respond to competitive threats, and even improve patient outcomes! Celina delves into other ways this approach to the care journey improves healthcare on the back end. 

This episode, featuring marketing creative Rebekah Duke, also continues our practice marketing series based on our new eBook, hot off the presses and free to download: The Complete Medical Practice Digital Marketing Success Blueprint. Download our free practice marketing eBook here

Thank you for listening to the Medical Advantage Podcast, where each we take time each episode to discuss the ideas and technologies changing healthcare, and the best practices your organization can take to stay productive and profitable. Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts to ensure you never miss an episode.  

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Full Episode Transcript

Medical Advantage Podcast: Welcome to the Medical Advantage Podcast, where you can hear healthcare professionals, expert consultants, and industry thought leaders discuss the exciting new ideas and technologies that are changing the business of healthcare. Tune in to each episode as we hear from some of the most innovative minds in medicine about the future of healthcare and how your organization can stay profitable, efficient, and on top of industry best practices. 

Celina DeFigueiredo-Dusseau: Welcome everyone to the Medical Advantage podcast series. I am your host, Celina Dusseau, and today we are joined by Rebekah Duke, our marketing creative. Rebekah and I are excited to bring you another installment in our practice marketing series based on our free eBook, the Complete Medical Practice Digital Marketing Success Blueprint, available for free download at medicaladvantage.com

Today we will discuss how the patient journey is continuously impacted by commercialism and digital marketing. Acknowledging these impacts helps us embrace the benefits of the digital consumer experience and frame a communication strategy that meets and hopefully exceeds patient expectations. Rebekah, thank you for joining. 

Rebekah Duke: Thank you. It’s great to be here.  

Celina DeFigueiredo-Dusseau: Thanks. So to get us started, I’d like to understand from your perspective, what has brought about this conversation? How has the commercialized world of retail and e-commerce directly impacted healthcare?  

Rebekah Duke: Certainly. So for some time now, there’s been this tug of war for consumer loyalty between e-commerce and brick and mortar retail, and we could argue that this all started with the introduction of Amazon prime’s lightning fast delivery. 

So in response to e-commerce competitive threats, brick and mortar has come up with a personalized customer experience model for enhanced convenience by way of digital technology, you open up an app, see if what you need is available at a nearby store, or it reminds you that it’s time to order more cat food in a couple of clicks you’ve ordered what you need. 

You get a notification that it’s time to come pick it up. You have the option to either pick it up at the front counter or have it put into your car for you with curbside delivery. There is no need to walk laps around the store anymore. Everything’s done in a few clicks. And of course, other consumer spaces like the restaurant and travel industries have been impacted by digital convenience as well, and we can expect consumer expectations to be shaped by this, to the point that it becomes standard.  

Meanwhile, healthcare has met consumerism in the form of retail clinics, and on the horizon is Amazon Care. Yes, that Amazon that we were just talking about that disrupted the entire retail universe now wants their piece of the healthcare market share by way of app-based telehealth. If you want to put into one word how far healthcare consumerism has come, it’s one name Amazon Care.  

Celina DeFigueiredo-Dusseau: That’s a great point, Rebekah. We always have to keep in mind that patients are consumers in everyday life and their behaviors in the commercial world directly impact their expectations in their journey as a patient.  

Rebekah Duke: You are so right, Celina. The consumerization of healthcare is just a fancy way of saying that patients are now behaving as consumers in how they approach their medical care. They can manage virtually every aspect of their lives in the palms of their hands, that is their mobile devices. And so being acclimated to a digitally based consumer experience means that patient expectations will gravitate toward a more streamlined process. 

In other words, they are probably thinking to themselves, make my healthcare as easy for me as everything else I do out there in the world. 

Celina DeFigueiredo-Dusseau: You are absolutely spot on, and I think we can all relate to that. There’s an increasing need for quickly accessing care and care related information just as we do in every other aspect of our lives. So to follow up on that, what are your thoughts on the response that’s required for practice leaders? Why is this commercialized patient journey of any real significance to providers and other healthcare professionals?  

Rebekah Duke: That is a great question. Understanding aspects of the patient journey helps you develop and improve the patient experience overall. Well designed patient experiences have the power to drive patient engagement, which supports better patient outcomes, so the time has come to acknowledge that the patient journey and commercialization are no longer separate. 

They cross paths at several points along the patient journey, particularly in regard to digital marketing. Recognizing this informs your overall strategy from attracting new patients to improving care quality to remaining competitive in a market that continues to heat up.  

Celina DeFigueiredo-Dusseau: Precisely. Practices have to keep up with the digital demands of patients. Even those practices who may not be as advanced in their technology use or digital marketing efforts, they really feel that pressure and urgency from patients to support the digital front of their care journey. And there are so many avenues to approach this. So, Rebekah, I’m curious from what you’re seeing in the digital marketing space, can you kind of walk us through what exactly can this patient journey look like in 2022? 

Rebekah Duke: Yes, I’d be glad to. So there are several touchpoints where the patient journey and consumerization cross paths. We now have a centralized customer experience, all in one handheld mobile device that sets the stage for the digital patient journey and it all begins with a concern that the patient has. You know, Google processes over 7 million health related queries every day. 

Often people would rather ask a search engine their medical questions because they get quick answers and privacy. They may not be ready to bring their personal matters to another human being. And we may not think of Google as being a digital marketing tool, but it is. So I start looking through the search results, which are usually blog posts from authorities in the healthcare space like WebMD. And depending on how they phrase the search query, there could be a few paid search placements by healthcare providers mixed in these results, making it a commercialized experience on top of being an informative one.  

So after getting some initial triage from Dr. Google, they realize that they do need to see a provider sooner than later. So that’s where the search for a provider begins. Who is under my insurance, if I’m not under insurance, where can I get flexible self-pay arrangements locally? So a patient is going through this mental checklist when looking for care and online resources help them get through that checklist so much faster than the old way of calling around.  

So when you don’t have that online presence, it’s very likely that you’ll be dismissed as an option outright. In fact, clinics that a patient passes by every day on their commute may not register as existing in their minds unless they can find it on the internet. One of the most popular search phrases ends with near me.  

So someone searching for a pediatrician would enter pediatrician self-pay near me, and then Google generates a list with its own top picks determined by its own search engine quality metrics. So when you’re not on that list, that impacts your chances of being chosen by a patient. 

Also keep in mind that not having an updated website linked to your practice listings also has a negative impact on a patient’s first impression of you. The lack of a modernized website makes them question your professionalism and your ability as a facility to meet their needs and expectations.  

So between Google search and provider listings, a patient can create a short list of places that they’re considering, and that’s where online reviews steps in to help them make their final decision. You know patients are highly influenced by reviews. A doctor.com survey found that nearly 90% of patients will consult reviews to vet referrals. Meaning that they’ve been told this is where you wanna go, but they want to hear from other patients’ experiences first before they make their final decision. 

And if they encounter a review that addresses specific concerns, that gives them even more of a consumer confidence boost because these aren’t necessarily things that they would ask another person about or are not likely to be found at any kind of FAQ section.  

Celina DeFigueiredo-Dusseau: Right. It is so essential now that patients have a feeling of autonomy and ownership of their health by having access to this information and building rapport with the practice, even before they choose to make an appointment, it helps to guide that effective decision making and give comfort early on in the journey.  

Rebekah Duke: Yes, exactly. The digital patient journey puts the patient in the driver’s seat, and this works to the patient’s advantage. So it’s time to make that appointment. Going to the provider website is making an appointment easy to figure out. One of the best ways to capture a patient when they are ready to move forward on the spot is with the appointment request form, which can easily be added to your website.  

Also on the website should be content like a frequently asked questions page and meaningful blog content. As mentioned before, the blog that the patient encountered at the start was illuminating about their issue, and while it gave them some comfort, it also gave them a sense of urgency leading them to contact a provider. So blogs are an absolute must, both to be seen in search and also to show the patient that you are well informed about their issue. 

Celina DeFigueiredo-Dusseau: Yeah, and Rebekah, this really reinforces that demand for quick and accurate information. Having a website that supports their demand for that quick information is essential, and ensuring that the practice, EHR, is set up in a way that will support that demand, enabling the portal, linking it to an effective website, and prompting the patient to get ahead on their appointment through things like questionnaires and intake forms even before they arrive.  

Rebekah Duke: Absolutely Celina. Shifting those intake processes to the patient by capturing contact information such as address, phone number, email address, can all be collected digitally ahead of the patient’s arrival. You then have three established channels of communications right there captured to keep the patient engaged or to reengage them if they ghost you. 

You can also keep them informed of services relative to them. This is personalization. For example, I got a text message recently from my provider inviting me to schedule a mobile mammogram visit that would be in my area that was certainly relevant to my particular demographic. Personalization.  

So once this patient has been seen and established, you can now ask them for a review. You know, at this point on their journey, they needed another patient’s review to convince them to become new patients themselves. Now they can pay it forward in the same way.  

On the other hand, we don’t really like to think of our patients as social media influencers, but they can have that effect on social media. They can comment on your posts and interact with you in a positive way. Onlookers will see that and they will look at that as a confirmation that you are a good practice to work with because these patients are compelled to interact with you during their own leisure time, outside of office visits. 

Celina DeFigueiredo-Dusseau: Rebekah, that’s a great analogy. Thinking of patient consumers as influencers, that digital footprint extends so far beyond just reviews. A patient who’s highly engaged all throughout the journey has an immense ability to promote and grow the success of your practice. Engaged patients have autonomy. They feel informed and well cared for, and they feel that the providers are accessible to them when they need it. There are so many tools available to engage patients, which makes the lives of the providers and staff even easier.  

Rebekah Duke: Yes, there are certainly benefits to reap from what may feel like an invasive digital revolution, and the main benefit of that is more patient engagement. So to recap, the star cast of digital marketing tools that appear in the patient journey in the modern age are Google Search, online directories, optimized provider blogs, appointment request form, online ratings and reviews, review requests, and social media.  

Celina DeFigueiredo-Dusseau: So Rebekah, you’ve spoken to some of the many avenues that a patient can use to digitally guide their journey, but I’m curious to hear just a little bit more about what this looks. In practice, the digital patient journey really informs what a practice’s strategy might be. So can you tell me a bit more about how a practice can apply this knowledge?  

Rebekah Duke: Yes, there are probably many angles to look at, but here are a few to consider. First of all, economically, it helps you evaluate how you are stacking up competitively in your particular market and how you need to respond to these mounting competitive threats, especially ones that are technologically advanced like at base care, as we said earlier, Amazon Care. 

Then conceptually, you realize that an agile mindset is needed when coordinating the patient experience. Patients are likely thinking, you know, why does it take me five steps to do this thing that I can do in one or two steps in this other area of my life? You know, yesterday I was able to make a credit card payment in one click from an email without even logging into the credit card website. 

It was stupid easy. We were recording this close to tax day and I recently heard that even the IRS is exploring ways to make their customer experience better. So when even the government is trying to figure out how to make the experience better for people in the digital age that should really tell you something. 

I recall our Vice President of EHR, Angie Howard, saying that the digital front door experience should be tailored to your particular patient population. So just always remember that it all starts with a patient-centered philosophy. Taking the time to consider your patient’s expectations that are influenced by their digital experience as consumers can help you decide on what upgrades and new tools you would like to bring in to your organization that will keep them engaged such as enhanced personalization. 

It all comes down to meeting the moment as these patient expectations evolve, and seeing it as an opportunity to keep patients engaged. Because if tasks become too difficult for patients, they’re then at risk for not making those follow-up appointments and dropping out of the care plan in general. So if you just look at it as a way to improve your patient engagement and outcomes overall, then that helps you shape your strategy.  

Celina DeFigueiredo-Dusseau: Absolutely, Rebekah. We see this in practices every single day. Now, as we know, there’s no one size fits all solution or strategy for implementing these tools into the practice. The technology efforts must support the unique demands of your patients as consumers, and that means understanding your unique patient population. 

One great place to start is to ensure that the EHR functionalities are activated and optimized in a way that support both the patients and the providers or the staff, every EHR has an abundance of tools available, and it takes some time in evaluation to understand what best serves the distinct dynamic in your practice.  

There is the potential for resistance anytime new change or technologies come into play. But something to keep in mind is that these tools and strategies are not only here to improve the patient journey, but that of the practice staff as well. Any effort to improve your digital strategy can make scheduling easier to manage for your staff, makes care information and directives more accessible for patients and improves access to reliable and accurate data for all parties involved, and in turn reducing some of the burden for the providers patients. Enter your practice more prepared, having built rapport and trust with the practice even before they ever walk through the door. This is key to having optimal patient interactions and maintaining a strong and lasting patient population going forward.  

Rebekah Duke: Absolutely. Celina, there are abundant opportunities to improve the patient experience by leveraging technology and engagement models that so many of us are already acclimated to using. 

Celina DeFigueiredo-Dusseau: Rebekah, this has been incredibly, incredibly informative and very relevant to the practices that we work with every day. Even if you’re not in the business of digital marketing, digital marketing is now in your business. To learn more about the aspects of healthcare and digital marketing, download our eBook at medicaladvantage.com and join us for our next practice marketing episode coming soon. 

And of course, should you have any questions or want to chat with us about any of the content we covered today, you can also reach us directly at info@medicaladvantage.com. Thank you, Rebekah, so much for your time and insights today, and thank you as always to our audience for listening. See you next time. 

Medical Advantage Podcast: Thanks for joining us this week on the Medical Advantage Podcast where we discuss the ideas and technologies changing healthcare and what they mean to your organization. For more information, visit us at medicaladvantage.com and make sure to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcast, so you never miss a show. 

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