October 2014
Volume 10, Issue 10

Connecting with the Connected Patient

4 digital habits to tap into to increase practice production

Diana P. Friedman, MA, MBA

In today’s world, your patients are connected, and this changes the way you need to market your practice. While providing superior dental care is still critical, your ability to engage and interact with prospective and existing patients digitally will ultimately drive the growth and profitability of your practice.

When you consider that 85% of the United States uses the Internet,1 focusing practice marketing efforts in digital mediums becomes imperative. The number of people using their mobile devices as the only way to access the Internet is expected to increase 56 fold from 14 million in 2010 to 788 million by the end of 2015.2 All you have to do is take a look at your reception area to see this trend in action—almost every patient you have is armed with a smartphone or tablet. It’s your ability to reach these connected patients that will determine the success of your practice.

Fortunately, connected patients share some common traits that can help you better understand how to engage and interact with them. Here are four characteristics of the connected patient that your practice can use to drive increased production.

Connected Patients Search Online

There are about 12 billion monthly searches on Google, which represents roughly two thirds of all search traffic.3 The connected patient relies on search engines to quickly find relevant content and information. In today’s world, the connected patient expects this content to be prioritized, relevant, and come up in an instant. Case in point, 87% of all clicks from organic search engine traffic goes to the first five results.4 To reach the connected patient, your practice’s website or topical site (see the next section) must secure these top spots in relevant search results for targeted keywords.

This makes search engine optimization (SEO) more important than ever. Your SEO strategies need to focus on local search results. In a WebVisible study, 86% of survey participants use the Internet to find a local business and 72% prefer to find information on local merchants via search.5 The connected patient you want to attract is the one who is local and seeks to make an appointment with your practice. So make sure your practice deploys an effective SEO strategy that is optimized to reach the right prospective patients in your local area.

Connected Patients Use Topical Search

There is an immense amount of content on the web today. Even as the connected patient relies on general search engines such as Google, there has been a significant shift towards what’s known as vertical search or topical sites. Basically these are websites or portals that cater to a specific topic or area of interest. In the last half of 2012, topical sites had an 8% increase in search traffic, whereas major search engine traffic decreased by 3% over the same period.6 Examples for successful topical sites in the consumer world include websites such as WebMD, Amazon, and eBay.

In the dental world, an excellent example for this is Healthgrades.com. Today more than 20 million prospective patients search Healthgrades.com for a new dental care provider in their local area. More than half will schedule an appointment when a “click to request an appointment” feature is present.7 Topical search sites like Healthgrades.com can help your practice in a couple of important ways. First, they provide increased practice exposure to highly qualified prospective patients and drive more of them to your practice. A study conducted in February 2014 by Sesame Communications found that practices with a Healthgrades Enhanced Profile received an average of 13 additional calls to the practice per month (internal data, New Appointment Request Research Brief, February 2014). Secondly, they also provide additional exposure on the more traditional search engine results. A listing on a well-trafficked vertical search site in many cases will appear above your practice website on the regular search results. This obviously increases the opportunity for prospective patients to engage with you online.

The connected patient uses topical sites for assessment and validation of your practice and to request an appointment.

Connected Patients Have Gone Mobile

No matter where you look, someone has their phone out and is online researching information. In fact, in 2014 mobile Internet usage will surpass desktop Internet usage.8 With this pattern of mobile adoption in mind, reevaluating your patient engagement and communication, website, and social media channels to ensure they are optimized for mobile viewing is more important than ever. There are two primary things you can do to make sure your practice is prepared.

First, in terms of your website, it is imperative that your website render optimally on any mobile device. In the recent past, this was accomplished by building a separate mobile site that could identify a device and present an alternate website that would work with a limited set of devices. Today, the optimal way to make your website mobile friendly is to update it to what is known as responsive design. In this scenario, your website is built on a state-of-the-art platform that automatically adapts the design and content to screens of any size to ensure an optimal patient experience on virtually any device.

Second, in terms of patient communications, it is critical that your patient engagement platform is mobile optimized. This means your patients are able to view their accounts, pay bills, confirm appointments, and access their records from any device.

The connected patient expects your website to work on every device they use. Your practice needs to ensure it is ready to meet these expectations to attract new patients and keep the ones you have engaged.

Connected Patients Are Social

Social media continues to garner the attention of the connected patient. Last year 78% of Internet users ages 30 to 49 were active on social media sites9 such as Facebook and YouTube. Even more interesting, 47% of Americans say Facebook is their number one influencer of purchases (up from 24% in 2011).10 Social media, done correctly, will drive new patients to your practice from referrals and foster loyalty with your existing patient community. However, as connected patients rely more on social media to make decisions and refer friends to your practice, they also expect more quality content from your practice. The days of adding a Facebook, Twitter, or Google+ account and expecting it to act like a billboard for your practice are over. To ensure your social media efforts pay dividends, your practice needs to strategize and keep all its sites up-to-date, providing relevant, quality, patient-directed content.

The practice that successfully engages with the connected patient on social media will foster the type of loyalty needed to ensure long-term, profitable relationships.

Final Thoughts

Today almost every patient should be considered a connected patient. The future success of your practice is dependent on your ability to attract and engage them within the digital world. Connected patients are not swayed by traditional marketing tactics. They do not want to be sold. Connected patients want to quickly find you when they are online and build a level of mutual trust through consistent digital interaction. Developing a digital marketing strategy for your practice that focuses on the connected patient will drive more new patients, improve production, and ensure sustained growth and profitability.

About the Author

Diana P. Friedman, MA, MBA, is president and chief executive officer of Sesame Communications. She has a 20-year track record of success in leading dental innovation and marketing. Contact Diana at Diana@sesamecommunications.com.

References

1. How Americans go online. Pew Internet website. http://pewinternet.org/Infographics/2013/How-Americans-go-online.aspx. Accessed August 14, 2014.

2. Mobile–by the numbers. Mobile Technology Association of Michigan website. www.gomobilemichigan.org/about/mobile-in-michigan---by-the-numbers.html. Accessed August 14, 2014.

3. Smith C. By the numbers: 60 amazing Google search statistics and facts. Digital Marketing Ramblings website. http://expandedramblings.com/index.php/by-the-numbers-a-gigantic-list-of-google-stats-and-facts#.Uw9GfPldUjU. Accessed August 14, 2014.

4. Miller M. 53% of organic search clicks go to first link [study]. Search Engine Watch website. http://searchenginewatch.com/article/2215868/53-of-Organic-Search-Clicks-Go-to-First-Link-Study. October 10, 2012. Accessed August 14, 2014.

5. Sterling G. Survey: search now top resource for local information. Search Engine Land website. http://searchengineland.com/survey-search-now-top-resource-for-local-information-12396. October 11, 2007. Accessed August 14, 2014.

6. Green J. Why vertical search is threatening Google’s reign. Search Engine Land website. http://searchengineland.com/why-vertical-search-is-threatening-googles-reign-158434. May 8, 2013. Accessed August 14, 2014.

7. Limpin R. 5 ways to use Healthgrades Enhanced Profile to drive new patient appointments [slideshow]. Sesame Communications website. www.sesamecommunications.com/blog/5-ways-to-use-healthgrades. November 20, 2013. Accessed August 19, 2014.

8. Berger B. 32 startling statistics on mobile usage. www.ezanga.com/articles/32-startling-statistics-on-mobile-usage-infographic. August 5, 2013. Accessed August 14, 2014.

9. Brenner J, Smith A. 72% of online adults are social networking site users. Pew Internet, www.pewinternet.org/2013/08/05/72-of-online-adults-are-social-networking-site-users. August 5, 2013. Accessed August 14, 2014.

10. Bullas J. 22 social media facts and statistics you should know in 2014. www.jeffbullas.com/2014/01/17/20-social-media-facts-and-statistics-you-should-know-in-2014. Accessed August 14, 2014.

 

About the Author

Diana P. Friedman, MA, MBA, is president and chief executive officer of Sesame Communications. She has a 20-year track record of success in leading dental innovation and marketing. Contact Diana at Diana@sesamecommunications.com.

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