Medical practices have used advertising and outbound marketing strategies effectively for years now.
Not all of them have adopted inbound marketing strategies, however... a risky oversight in a world where patients are social, information is digital, and lifestyles have gone mobile.
Building an inbound marketing campaign involves foresight, creativity, and careful planning. Even more than that, though, it must center on the most important thing that a doctor and patient can share: trust.
The trust factor
Trust is part of the 3 Ts of healthcare marketing. Doctors already understand how important trust is to their relationships with patients. With the nearby resource of the Internet always there for patients to access, doctors need to understand what patients are looking for on the Internet, and why, if they are to be effective in interacting with and relating to them.
The Pew Internet Research Center revealed some powerful statistics in December 2013 regarding the use of the Internet to locate health information:
80 percent of all Internet users (59 percent of US adults) said they searched for health information online
72 percent of all Internet users said they looked online for health information within the past year
77 percent of all Internet users said they started their last computer session from a search engine page
One in three American adults has gone online to figure out (self-diagnose) a medical condition
Nearly half of all Internet users search for information about doctors or other health professionals
38 percent of all Internet users search for information about hospitals and other medical facilities
The most commonly researched topics are specific diseases or conditions; treatments or procedures; and doctors or other health professionals
Potential patients are, in essence, experiencing what Google calls "the Zero Moment of Truth" (ZMOT): more frequent patterns made up of online decision-making moments. It's these moments that inbound marketing is made for.
Building and maintaining trust through inbound marketing
Trust building involves the usual pre-marketing suspects: you must still provide quality services, a comfortable facility, simplicity in billing and scheduling, and a warm and inviting staff.
After these basics are established, inbound media should be a large part of your focus for building and maintaining trust with patients, old and new.
Inbound marketing 101
Let's review: Inbound marketing is a campaign that focuses on creating and sharing content to attract the attention of patients and members in your community. Inbound marketing for medical practices has four main objectives:
- Reaching patients (existing and new)
- Educating patients (and their families)
- Building the referral base, and
- Increasing the patient base
The key avenues for accomplishing this are:
the website (but more importantly, the blog, as a website alone is static)
social media presence (pages in Facebook, a Twitter handle)
email marketing (for preexisting patients and potential ones expressing an interest in your services)
free content, such as e-books (for those who sign up)
What do patients hope to find when they go online?
Even when patients who seek healthcare solutions online are looking for more than just a new doctor, they still need to find your medical practice while doing so. They use search engines to look for:
patient reviews of services
articles about potential doctors they’re interested in
physician’s individual pages showing credentials, years in practice, and resumes
private community comments in social media (such as Facebook groups)
These efforts have come to reflect a more dynamic "word-of-mouth" process that enhances any referrals or recommendations they may receive from friends, family, insurance companies, or other doctors.
Your inbound medical marketing strategy should include a full array of content (both textual and visual) addressing these interests to prove your worth to new patients looking for care. These days, patients not only want, but expect, a legitimate medical practice to:
provide them with accessible, accurate medical information they can understand and use
be interactive when it comes to scheduling, billing, and communication
offer diagnostic and treatment options even before patients come in for visits
maintain alliances with the most trustworthy healthcare organizations in their communities
The more you can illustrate your experience, expertise, and specialization in your chosen medical field, the more likely you will appeal to new patients who need your services, who cite all of these as critical factors when searching for and selecting new doctors.
At the same time, patients still need human connection and a sense that they are more than just a file on record. Inbound marketing can help lend to what this HubSpot article author calls the "humanizing" efforts you want to make to improve those bonds. Your inbound marketing strategy should ultimately strive to put a "face" on your business.
The digital locations (website, blog, Facebook page, etc.) connecting your medical group to visitors searching the web can (and should) include lots of content (text, photos, videos, animations) which captures what your medical practice looks and "feels" like, making it a more familiar—and therefore, more comfortable—place for the new patient to visit.
Whether its “likes” in Facebook, positive reviews on Yelp, or the resharing of your content by a loyal patient via Twitter, these exercises in patient validation show the world just how much they already trust you.
(If you harbor concerns about ethical problems with using social media, you'll want to check out the American College of Physicians' recommendations for ethical guidance and preserving trust in patient-physician relationships using social media that were first established in 2013.)
Digital versus traditional marketing trends in 2016
The MM&M Healthcare Marketers Trend Report published in March 2016 shows that the greatest growth in inbound marketing is being found in areas that utilize social media, mobile applications, and digital ads. Why?
77 percent of patients used search engines prior to booking appointments
Prior to booking an appointment, more than half of users visited health insurance or health information sites, while over 80 percent visited hospital sites, and another 26 percent consulted patient reviews online
Search engines drive 3 times as many patients to hospital sites as they do to other medical referral sites
44 percent of those who research hospitals using a mobile device end up scheduling an appointment
Patients generally search information on symptoms and conditions right before they become conversions (as an example of ZMOT).
Patients aren't the only ones you want to reach
Here's an indirect, yet invaluable, way to instill trust in your medical practice. You can gain reputation points when others search topics that relate to your medical niche and find your practice online.
These could be doctors, journalists, or students. They may never become patients, but they may like the quality of your blog content so much that they share it with others. These shares absolutely improve your ranks in search engines.
Other people in the community—business people, politicians, service organizations—may also encounter your presence on the web through a blog post or a share.
When people who aren’t patients but who do have influence in your local community take notice of your presence online, this can also raise your currency in your home town and may even elevate you and your medical practice to the level of “thought leader” or “trail blazer.”
Which makes it all the more important to make sure your content marketing strategy provides relevant, accessible, useful information so that you can become the best educator in your space.
Making inbound medical practice marketing a priority is critical if your goal is to attract new patients or to build patient loyalty and satisfaction among your existing ones. This kind of digital "word of mouth" works, not only to build patient trust, but to elevate your practice's reputation and presence in the community, and to improve patient health literacy about the healthcare concerns which are the cornerstone of your expertise.
American College of Physicians
MM&M Healthcare Marketers Trend Report, March 2016
Pew Research Center, Health Online 2013
Want to learn more? Check out our Inbound Medical Marketing Handbook (below) for a wide range of tips, tricks, and techniques for establishing a strong inbound marketing strategy for your medical practice.