For the last seven years, I’ve been using digital tools – websites, social media, email and mobile – for hospitals and healthcare organizations to attract and engage patients. And every year I have people challenge me: do websites, mobile devices and social media really work?
Do we really still have to ask this question?
It’s clear people are using online tools to help with the healthcare needs.Just like they use them to pay their bills, buy holiday gifts, watch movies, order food, and virtually everything else. Websites, smart phones, social media and all other digital tools are a ubiquitous part of our lives now. But how are they used in healthcare specifically?
Every year, numerous studies are published to provide insight. This is a good thing because, after all, the healthcare industry needs studies to give guidance on what should be done (we’re an evidence-based culture). We should ask, though – how helpful are these studies?
In June 2012, UC Davis in California published a study that concluded patients consult the internet as part of the healthcare decision-making process…along with support groups, traditional media and offline social relations. Not very conclusive right? The study states:
“People were more likely to seek information online when their health situation was distressful or when they felt they had some level of personal control over their illness. Online information-seeking was also higher among patients who believed that their medical condition was likely to persist.”
It’s safe to say that this characterizes just about every patient.
Not surprisingly, studies also show the use of mobile devices to seek care is also rising. The Pew Internet & American Life project published the results of a survey in Nov 2012 that found 1 in 3 cell phone users have used their mobile device to search for healthcare. Anyone that owns an iPhone or Android device probably isn’t surprised about this.
And these studies also indicate that the use of digital is also happening in Europe. The Cybercitizen Health Europe 2012 study found that 72% of European web users use social networking sites, online testimonials and ratings and reviews to help with their healthcare choices. Big surprise, huh?
I think it’s safe to conclude that the number of patients using digital tools to help with their health care decisions is in the majority. Shouldn’t we just round the number up to 100%?
So given that, what should a healthcare provider do? Obviously, we need to strategically align our marketing and communications efforts be where our patients are – online. That’s not to say we should abandon traditional communication vehicles (though we should analyze the appropriate ad spend). See this chart (published in The Atlantic):
Here are some other tips for hospitals to create a digital strategy that meets your patients’ expectations:
- Add some form of digital to every marketing or communication initiative. In the very least, these online additions can be a back-up if patients lose that mailer, forget to sign in for that lecture or lose the paperwork you sent home with them.
- Patients are still afraid and anxious about the care they will be receiving. Create online resources to help allay these fears (ex.: “What to expect from your surgery” online videos”). Make sure to also target this information to family members.
- Collect their email and ask permission to keep in touch with them electronically – before, during and after their procedure. Invest in a robust email platform that allows you to share information with them that align to their preferences.
- Make your website mobile friendly – and create an app or two that help patients complete tasks that typically take a lot of time to do on paper – register for an appointment, pay a bill or donate money to your foundation.
- Patients still consult their doctors, nurses and care providers to make healthcare choices. Create online information about your services, differentiators and the ability to ask questions or make online appointment requests for care providers as well.
Using digital tools to reach patients is no longer a question of “if” – it’s a question of “how.” And it’s a matter of now.