A well-known construct in marketing strategy is the Buyer's Journey. The Buyer's Journey was popularized by HubSpot a few years ago. It essentially highlights the common path that any buyer follows if they are to buy a product or service in order to solve some problem they have.
In this era of information overload, consumers tend to research (sometimes, obsessively) about products or services they want to purchase, vetting for important details like value, relevance, and ease of application.
No doubt the same construct can be useful to apply in a medical marketing strategy. The Patient's Journey follows roughly the same path before it leads them to finally come knocking on a medical practice's door, looking for healthcare solutions for their medical problems.
The Patient's Journey: a closer look
In this post, we'll use the term "Patient's Journey" because our focus at inboundMed is specifically on the interests of uniting potential patients with medical providers through strategic healthcare marketing.
The Patient's Journey is a three-step path:
The Patient's Journey: Awareness
This is the point of origin of a patient's problem, the reason why they embark on the journey: they need a solution. This first step is more and more likely to be one taken online, where the vast majority of prospective patients go to look for cures for what ails them.
Examples of Awareness include the situations experienced by these four hypothetical patient:
Henriette experiences a strange tingling sensation in her legs for the first time and it keeps returning
Jorge was recently in a car accident and he's now experiencing ringing in his ears
Dillon just started a new blood pressure medication to control his hypertension, and now he feels faint every time he stands up
Michiko just found out that she is pregnant (congratulations!), and she is now worried about what she eats and whether it is good for her health and safe for the baby
In every single case, most of these people will go to "Dr. Google" to look up these concerns to see if they should do anything about them. In doing so, they build Awareness.
This may not make a lot of in-the-flesh doctors happy because, truthfully, the best solution anyone can make when it comes to answering a medical question is to ask an actual doctor.
But the reality is, many (if not most) people will consult a search engine, a Facebook group, friends and family, or a forum online to gather Awareness first, with the goal of determining whether what they have is a problem, and if so, whether it's a problem worth worrying about.
Let's remember: people with healthcare concerns are not only worried about their health, but also about how much time their problem might take to fix, and how much it will cost them. These are legitimate pain points that drive them to this type of healthcare consumer behavior to begin with.
The Patient's Journey: Consideration
By going online to check out their concerns, these people are going to answer a few of the very basic questions they originally started with.
Again, while people self-diagnosing from an Internet consultation is not such a great idea, it happens. But it can still lead to good thing, such as Consideration, the motivation (for whatever reason) to learn more for self empowerment.
Henriette is concerned about what she's learned about causes for the mysterious tingling in her legs. What is she actually facing: a temporary situation or something more chronic? And is it life threatening?
She will have lots of unanswered questions even after a trip to the Internet, because tingling legs could be a symptom for dozens of problems. For her, learning new things may only succeed in raising more and scarier questions... expanding Consideration.
Jorge may now believe that his tinnitus is related to his car accident, based on what he's learned online. He is now tasked to determine if he needs to do anything about it. After all, his ears ring a lot, but it's not loud and it doesn't really bother him... it's just there.
He's read stories of far worse cases of "ringing of the ears" than his, so he may Consider whether it's really that big a deal. It doesn't seem to be getting worse...
Dillon quickly learns that his dizziness could be a side effect of his new medication, and that it's actually (mostly) normal.
He will need to Consider what is normal, again, however, when he has a bad fall a few days after starting the medication, which led to a sprained wrist.
Michiko found lots of information on the Internet, but while she's satisfied that her current diet is safe and healthy, her research online prompts other safety and wellness concerns she'd never even Considered until she'd begun practicing Awareness.
The Patient's Journey: Decision
The outcome of Consideration is action. It could also be inaction, even in a medical model where people are looking out for their own health and wellness, because their Decisions are also based on other Considerations, like time constraints, childcare, or budget.
At some point, all the research online, the discussions with friends and families, the outreach from acquaintances in social networks, will lead to the third step: Decision.
When anyone takes that final step, they experience what is known as Zero Moment of Truth: the flash of a second in which they Decide to do something to help themselves.
Decisions are based, in large part, on information. But let's remember, we're talking about human beings here. When medical concerns arise, many Decisions we make are at least as emotional as they are logical and practical. Decision is not only a thinking process, but a feeling one.
From our examples here, Decision is the common outcome experienced after spending time in Consideration. It is prompted by:
Fear of getting worse. This is a major factor in moving from Consideration to Decision, especially if discomfort is a problem or family history becomes part of the dynamic.
In Henriette's case, this fear could be inspired directly by the sources she sought when she first became Aware. Her tingling legs may suddenly be linked, in her mind, to multiple sclerosis, which she discovers "runs in the family."
Her Decision to see a doctor could happen either because she wants to confirm her suspicion or to calm her fears (after all, during Awareness and Consideration, she also learned her symptoms could still be something else much less serious).
Urgency, or lack thereof. Jorge doesn't have a sense of urgency about his current dilemma. He feels it's something he can just learn to live with.
This happens to a lot of people: pain and symptom tolerance can shape how, when, and why anyone takes that last step toward a Decision.
Two weeks after he notices his mild tinnitus, Jorge's sense of urgency remains pretty low on the pain scale... until he begins to experience headaches.
This change in conditions, based on what he's already learned from becoming Aware and practicing Consideration, could bring him to a new Decision.
Confusion and contradiction. Dillon has learned so much about hypertension medications—in online searches, forums, from friends and families, or in social networks—that it makes his situation challenging. He is Aware that side effects of popular medications don't affect people in the same way, and that they may even be normal. Yet his gut feeling tells him otherwise.
When Dillon Decides his bad fall and subsequent sprained wrist were the outcome of orthostatic hypotension, a side effect of his medication, he begins to wonder if it could happen again. This concern quickly convinces him, by his own volition, to pick up the phone and call the doctor.
Information overload. Sometimes, a condition is not mysterious or life threatening. For Michiko, pregnancy is exciting, welcomed, yet fraught with unknowns, even after spending a great deal of time seeking Awareness. She still has so many questions that she Decides to "graduate" from her online peer groups and get clear, personalized guidance from a living, breathing medical professional instead.
The Patient's Journey and medical marketing
Being useful, informative, accessible, and sincere about helping others is key to any successful inbound marketing strategy for the medical practice. How physicians with medical practice blogs encounter these patients on their three-step journeys (and during which stages) can have a significant influence over whether they end up calling on them for resources, advice, or even appointments.
This is one of the best reasons to have ample amounts of quality content on your medical practice blog: The more information you can provide for the random patient with a new problem (that you are literally poised to help them solve), the more they are going to progress on their Patient's Journey from Awareness to Consideration to Decision. The medical practice blog that regularly posts quality content is poised to greet these prospective patients precisely where they are at. These days, that means the Internet.
Every step along their path may lead them to your doorstep, if you can provide them with the proper support through helpful information so they can build trust in your expertise and feel empowered to take informed action.
Or, if they don't call you... they may still remember you, for all that you taught them while they were walking the path. Their shared links to your content in social networks show they trust and respect your medical practice. That kind of peer-driven "marketing" (known as "digital word of mouth" when it happens online) among friends, family, and loved ones is worth its weight in gold.
Medical practices who serve these people in need every step along their journey (Awareness, Consideration, and Decision) are in the enviable position of being more likely to serve them with a solution that's a win-win for everyone involved.