When they need healthcare, many consumers today go online first.
Leading hospital systems creating 'digital front doors' to foster brand loyalty
There they find a slew of unfiltered information—some of it helpful, some of it less so, some of it downright misleading.
Healthcare systems have taken notice.
The rise of consumerism in medicine is leading many hospital systems to look for new ways to build brand consciousness among current and prospective patients. Useful tools include online portals with price and quality information, physician ratings and social media.
Many have dedicated themselves to creating a “digital front door” to stand out amidst the multitude. That digital front door is key to acquiring new patients and building the kind of brand awareness and loyalty that keeps them coming back.
It's especially necessary at a time of growing consumerism in healthcare. People increasingly see themselves as medical consumers. They are placing a greater emphasis on convenience and affordability.
To attract these patients, healthcare systems are finding that transparency is key. Patients are looking for easily accessible price and quality information and want to know previous patients' reviews, whether through social media or online ratings sites.
“You're starting to see providers building a brand that's based on being responsive to consumers rather than just building a brand that is based on extreme clinical excellence,” said Kathy Hempstead, senior adviser to the executive vice president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Cleveland Clinic has moved much of its branding work into the digital realm. Paul Matsen, chief marketing officer of the $8 billion healthcare system, divides the marketing efforts by geography: those targeted at nearby northeast Ohio and those targeted at the rest of the country and world. In northeast Ohio, he said, Cleveland Clinic already has full brand awareness, so it focuses instead on promoting access and publicizing its same-day appointments and telehealth services.
For its broader marketing effort, building awareness is key. “In most product categories, people use brands to help them make choices,” he said.
To build its brand and acquire new patients, Cleveland Clinic has turned to the web, with search-engine marketing and two content platforms—one that's aimed at consumers and presents health and wellness news, and one that's aimed at providers and highlights treatment trends and research.
It is also making extensive use of social media—especially Facebook and Twitter. It is experimenting with Instagram and Snapchat, too. “We think of social media first and foremost as an awareness-generating medium that allows us to engage with patients from all over the world,” Matsen said. The hospital system has 2.8 million Twitter followers and Facebook fans.
Cleveland Clinic also attracts patients by posting physician ratings on its website. “Patients are doing a lot more research,” Matsen said.
Indeed, patients are stepping up their use of physician reviews, said Andrew Rainey, executive vice president of strategy and corporate development for Binary Fountain, a company that helps provider systems with search engine optimization and with the collection and display of physician ratings.
When patients need to find new doctors, they first look at who's in network, Rainey said. They look at whom their doctors recommended and who is nearby. The final step is checking online reviews and ratings, as they seek out providers they can trust. “We're used to going online and looking for reviews and ratings,” Rainey said.
More than a third of Americans have posted online reviews about providers, according to Rock Health. They're writing on healthcare-specific sites, such as Zocdoc, and on general review sites, such as Yelp.
“Having reviews and ratings in the first place has an impact on driving new patients,” Rainey said. After one Binary Fountain client started using the company's Binary Star Ratings, which are compiled from patient surveys and displayed on the client's site, 74% of patients scheduled appointments with physicians who had ratings listed, whereas just 26% scheduled appointments with those who didn't. Binary Fountain's products are used by more than 2,800 U.S. healthcare facilities, including Providence Health & Services, Duke Health, and UnityPoint Health.
It helps to have positive reviews, of course. Binary Fountain leverages natural language processing to help clients figure out where they can improve. If many comments mention that the front desk staff was rude, for instance, and mention a certain person by name, the healthcare system might intervene by talking to that person.
Binary Fountain emphasizes the importance of healthcare systems engaging with patients online. If a bad review pops up, a provider's best recourse is following up with a broad statement publicly and then more specifically in a one-on-one conversation with the reviewer, Rainey said. That way, would-be patients see that the provider is invested in their patients and transparent about the interaction.
Like the healthcare systems Binary Fountain works with, Carolinas HealthCare System also publishes its physicians' reviews. But it takes the additional step of making its pricing available. For anyone on the Charlotte, N.C.-based system's insurance plan, pricing is available via a web portal. For others, it's a phone call away.
“Nobody would stay at a hotel or purchase a car or take a flight and not know what the cost is until the transaction is over,” said Craig Richardville, chief information and analytics officer for Carolinas HealthCare. “People should be able to make educated decisions, and these are, in some cases, the most important decisions they'll make in their lives.”
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