Most of you physicians out there didn’t get into medicine to do marketing. And yet, to do medicine you’ve got to have patients and, generally speaking, to have patients you’ve got to do a little marketing.
I love marketing. I also can’t do medicine. Science was always my second least-favorite subject, after math. Memorizing facts was never my strong-suit, though, if I’d gone to school a little later, I might have done better in science as today it’s less about remembering things and more about remembering how to find information online.
Luckily for you, “finding information online” can be the key to having more patients than you have time to see.
Heather Eng, Managing Editor at NewsCred, writes that medical practices are moving away from fee-for-service models and towards a greater focus on preventative care. Eng describes patient-centric medicine that uses technology to allow patients to be regular, active participants in their own healthcare “beyond-the-pill” offerings. These digital initiatives harness wearables and other smart devices to offer personalized, timely recommendations based on each patient’s health and lifestyle.
“For marketers, ‘beyond-the-pill’ initiatives provide new opportunities to build brand loyalty with customers and providers, which can lead to increased revenue,” Eng writes.
How? Well, according to a recently published eMarketer report (signup required), patients often search online when they have health questions before they call a doctor to make an appointment. This probably doesn’t surprise you. Heck, you probably do the same thing.
According to Jenny Cordina, a partner at McKinsey who works on healthcare issues, Millennials are much more likely than older populations to lack access to a primary-care provider.
This means two things. First, it means they’re up for grabs. It’s almost always easier to fill a need than it is to get a patient to replace their current doctor. Second, it means they’re more likely than older generations to look online for medical advice.
When asked whether a doctor is the best source for health information, only 41% of millennials said yes. That went up to 68% among older respondents.
According to Shreya Kumar, at NewsCred, 65% of people turn to the web first for health and wellness information and 72% of internet users searched for health information online in the past year.
Here are some of the kinds of questions patients of all ages are answering online before they talk to you:
These online searches are a golden opportunity to market your medical practice.
“Pharmaceutical and healthcare companies have a huge opportunity to be the go-to-source of information people around the world are searching for,” Kumar wrote.
Here are five places you can start answering questions to grow your patient base.
Quora is the world’s biggest, most active, and highest quality question-and-answer site. Anyone can post a question and anyone can answer anyone else’s question. But photos and bios help you determine whether the person answering has expertise. The best part of the site is that users vote on answers, pulling the best ones to the top. The strict moderation of bullmalarky and spam makes this site incredibly useful for crowdsourcing information on nearly every topic under the sun.
The Medical Conditions and Diseases topic has really interesting questions like What medical condition do you have that you thought was absolutely normal? But you’ll probably get more traction from following subtopics more closely associated with the kind of patients you actually want to see. For example, in Cerebral Palsy people ask questions like What are some ways to overcome my mild (spastic) cerebral palsy? And What are some cerebral palsy hacks? Or Dermatology, Surgery, Pregnancy.
I recommend the AskDocs reddit forum. It’s active and the answers are more helpful than, say, Ask a Doctor Forums where most of the answers amount to, “Go see a doctor.” Most “health forums” are just lists of questions with no answers, most several years old. Or, if there are answers, they’re mostly just “Go see a doctor.” So if you find a good, active forum, please list in the comments below.
3. Your own knowledge base
Create your own forum! It’s never been easier, technologically. You don’t need any coding knowledge with Knowledge Management Software, especially when you narrow your options down to ones with discussion board functionality.
One great thing about creating your own public forum is you can start ranking in Google for certain medical questions.
4. Via text message
“Compared to any other age group, whether it be Generation X or baby boomers, millennials are open to many different sources of input,” McKinsey’s Cordina said.
If you’re willing to answer medical questions via text, it creates trust and you may be able to get people into your office who otherwise would go with someone else, or end up in the ER.
5. Telemedicine marketplaces
Telemedicine software like Sherpaa act as platforms employers and individuals contract with to provide remote medical services. Sherpaa hires its own doctors and matches patients with providers.
It can be a great way to grow your patient base, without leaving your home!
How to do it right
Mark Shipley is CEO of Smith & Jones, a marketing and communications agency focused on hospitals and health systems. Shipley says that Millennials demand content that is helpful, entertaining or both. They don’t have time or patience for sales fluff.
They are also more likely to be receptive if the messaging aligns with their values. They want to feel a sense of community by sharing their thoughts and reviews on social networks, and their desire for convenience translates to use of nearby services with minimal wait times.
I asked Laurie Morgan, a Senior Consultant at Capko & Morgan and author of Management Rx how SMB doctors can use content marketing to grow their revenue. “I haven’t worked with a physician who has made a consistent effort with this (have worked with some that use social media effectively, though). But I have recommended to many physicians that they give it a try, with caveats.”
Physicians who want to grow their patient base with content marketing should keep Morgan’s tips in mind. They are:
1.Don’t expect results overnight.
Content marketing is not a quick-win marketing tactic. You’ve got to be willing and able to give it time to work. “It’s not just about one article,” Morgan said.
2.Make sure you actually want to write.
“Many physicians actually do love writing,” Morgan said. But many do not. Since one article isn’t going to get the job done, make sure producing high volumes of high-quality writing is something you’re going to enjoy. Otherwise, this isn’t going to work very well for you.
3.Make sure you’re targeting the right audience.
“I think most physicians tend to assume marketing is about patients, but for specialists, marketing to other physicians may be a more direct route,” Morgan said. She uses rheumatology as an example of a rapidly changing field where doctors introduce new therapies regularly.
“Reaching out with content — could be an article, newsletter, or even a webinar or in-person talk — is a useful way to stay connected. In-person presentations, such as lunchtime talks at hospitals, have long been a way for doctors to stay connected. But they’re not always recognized as content marketing because they’re old school. A blog, newsletter, or webinar is just a more modern delivery system.”
Kumar spoke with health and pharmaceutical brands that have found success with content marketing to find out what they’re doing right. She found high-performing pharmaceutical and healthcare content marketing campaigns did the following for patients:
- Created an emotional connection
- Built communities
- Created straightforward and actionable health and wellness information
- Made that information easy to access
Case study: The Mayo Clinic
The Mayo Clinic’s “Sharing” blog is built to create an emotional connection with patients and give them a place to connect with each other. It’s where writers share patients’ stories with the world. It’s a simple but powerful idea. Stories connect us with each other and offer hope.
As Kumar pointed out, in a recent study by Kantar Media, 47% of patients reported that reading stories online from fellow patients made them feel positive about their own treatments and outcomes. Stories are also how humans learn best. Stories help reinforce information about treatments and outcomes.
Maybe you didn’t go into medicine to do marketing. But that doesn’t mean you can’t learn! Your job is all about answering questions and solving problems for patients. Doing that online can be the key to having more patients than you have time to see.
Any good tips I left off? Share the wealth and let me know what works you in the comments!
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