October 16th, 2012

How Doctors Operate Online and Why It Matters To Healthcare Marketers

One of the many ironies of the U.S. healthcare system is that you can schedule an appointment to have surgery done with a robot, but more than likely, you still have to fill out paper forms that ask for the same information over and over.

Written by Debra Loggia

The same dichotomy exists with physicians and how they interact in the digital space. The shift to e-resources, e-prescribing and the implementation of Electronic Medical Record (EMR) systems has forced physicians to adopt online behaviors. How they use the web to make clinical decisions and communicate is important to understand if your marketing responsibilities include attracting those physicians to your practice, hospital or healthcare system.

If you’re still fighting with decision makers who believe that only the young docs fresh out of school are online, consider a recent study conducted by the Manhattan Group for Google which revealed that the Internet is now integral to clinical practice and that 99% of physicians use a laptop or desktop in their practice and 87% use a smart phone or tablet.

Many hospitals and healthcare systems are investing in the development of “physician only” portals to make it easy for referring docs to schedule appointments for their patients, view lab or test results, and communicate more effectively with a specialist. That’s the good news. The more important news is that 62% of physicians are likely to abandon a website if it’s not optimized for a smartphone.

The other “mobile” factor is direct communication with those referring physicians. Physician marketers need to prioritize ongoing communication with referring physicians and having your specialists call them simply to say thank you for the referral as well as to update them on their patient’s condition.

What Are They Searching For?

According to the research study, 84% are using conditions as a keyword during search. 56% are looking for a generic prescription name and 46% are searching for symptoms. When they landed on search result pages 63% went to the organic search results and 27% clicking on sponsored search at the top of the page.

This provides some keen insights into how marketers need to think about how pages are optimized for search and what the pages deliver to potential referring physicians. It may also inform your decisions around paid search and what that investment is buying in terms of capturing the attention of other physicians.

Further, while we all want to build out great content for patients and caregivers to help them through the decision making process, if 84% of physician searches are around specific conditions, it may be worth considering how you might deliver content on specific conditions important to your institution for referring physicians.

While we all know that Google “likes” videos, apparently so do physicians and they spend a considerable time watching them online ( 6 hours online on average per week). While much of that may be related on online CME, 43% were looking for disease and condition information. 85% of those who viewed videos online, took action as a result.

The more we learn about physician behavior online, the more effectively we can do our job as marketers. No one has to remind us how busy these people are and the amount of information they are inundated with each and every day. Driving them to your practice and delivering what they need, when they need it, will make them and you much happier.