Reaching the Patient Post-Diagnosis

Bill Holiber,

President & CEO, U.S. News & World Report

In today’s digital world, patients seeking answers about how to treat the common cold or recognize the symptoms of a heart attack often search the internet or query their social media networks before calling their doctor. We’ve entered a new era, in which researching your symptoms online, utilizing an at-home DNA kit or reviewing a prescription history is not only acceptable, but also the norm. While the digital age has propelled the practice of “self-diagnosis,” it’s also dramatically changed how patients research and choose care post-diagnosis. Through the power of technology, the engaged patient has now become the “empowered” patient, with individuals taking their health into their own hands, usually with the click of a button from the comfort of their own home.

As the digital age transforms the way patients engage with healthcare information, it’s important to ask: will technological disruption in healthcare make doctor’s offices obsolete?

In short, not a chance. Technology has revolutionized the way patients research their diagnoses and schedule appointments with doctors, but that doesn’t mean the doctor’s office will become a thing of the past. In fact, according to a recent Best Hospitals survey by U.S. News, while people may embrace technology and the ease of accessing information at their fingertips, they are still willing to go to great lengths for traditional care.

1: Going the Distance

More than half of patients will travel to the best hospital, no matter where it is located, for more complex medical needs, while only 6 percent say they would keep their visit to less than 15 miles. For an elective or long-range treatment protocol, patients and caregivers know they have choices and are using their power to become savvy researchers, which includes conducting in-depth research on specific facilities and physicians, rather than just relying on the ones closest to them geographically.

Marketing takeaway: Think big picture. Healthcare marketers need to expand beyond local marketing. By broadening your target to the geographical market, you can drive additional patient interactions.

2: Valuing Patient Experience

According to the U.S. News Best Hospitals survey, reputation matters to more than three-quarters of patient researchers. Patient reviews influence the opinions of 55% of patients and 57% of caregivers. While insurance still plays a big part, with nearly 80% making sure a facility accepts their plan, there is an increased emphasis on objective quality and performance measures for caregivers through patient reviews of a hospital’s performance and how it fares in objective rankings like those done by U.S. News & World Report.

Marketing takeaway: To help cement a positive impression, marketers should aim to meet patients where they’re doing their research—online. Facilities should create narratives that resonate with their audience. Storytelling devices, such as content marketing and profiles, put a human face on the clinical interaction and present a compelling storyline to engage patients.

3. A Digital Footprint Matters

In today’s digital age—especially in healthcare—patients expect and demand comparative tools, reviews and comprehensive, credible information, all while being in control of each step of the purchasing process. More than 30% of consumers say they have recently visited the website of a hospital or provider, and roughly half say that visiting a website increased their intent to visit the facility for future services.

Marketing takeaway: The quality of that information is vital, as patients turn to trusted sources for initial research and to corroborate other marketplace findings.

So how do you reach patients while they are right at the point of making a healthcare decision? The major challenge healthcare providers face is connecting patients’ online experience with their offline, in-person experience in the doctor’s office or hospital setting. However, marketers can address this challenge head on by directly engaging with patients while they’re in the process of searching for the best care for their specific needs or seeking answers to difficult medical questions.