Before long, patients will be the architects of health system marketing and branding—thanks to the ubiquity of the internet and online reviews, according to a new report.
Press Ganey surveyed more than 1,000 adults who are their household’s healthcare decision-makers and found that they are more likely to head online to research a new doctor than to ask family and friends.
Patients are also not blindly following referrals, the survey found. Nearly three-quarters (72%) said they would visit a physician’s website and 70% read online reviews before accepting a referral.
Chrissy Daniels, partner at Press Ganey overseeing consumerism and transparency, told FierceHealthcare that patients’ increasing trust in online research disrupts providers’ traditional outreach approaches, word-of-mouth marketing in particular.
“It sort of happened, I think, largely because of the ubiquitous nature of consumer reviews in all aspects of life,” Daniels said. “This is a pretty major tipping point—it shows a level of comfort with a platform that has really been emerging, but healthcare has been protected from.”
The survey also found that patients consider both positive and negative reviews from their peers, so one person’s post about a poor experience won’t scare all patients away from a clinic or hospital. Patients’ experiences with care are also the most likely predictor of brand loyalty; about 72% said they consider their most recent care experience, compared to just 12% that look to traditional billboard or flier advertising.
Though online reviews on sites like Yelp aren’t new, Daniels said leaders at health systems or physician groups aren’t used to taking them seriously. She said in consulting with systems she’ll typically ask how they believe patients find them, and many are still stuck in the past—like keeping Yellow Pages listings up-to-date, for example.
Daniels said providers can harness this information both from a quality improvement and a marketing perspective. Previous research at Press Ganey has noted a link between patient experience and patient safety, highlighting how each is a crucial piece on the journey to a value-based model.
For marketing purposes, providers can start by making more consumer-facing data available on their “find-a-doctor" search pages. This can pay off with better search engine optimization, to connect with patients who may be searching that way, and also provides them with the information they want to make a decision.
That includes posting reviews from other patients and more data on doctors themselves, including their credentials and medical training. Patients also respond well to seeing, in a doctor or hospital’s own words, the kind of service they hope to provide, Daniels said.
Providers should also break down silos between patient experience and marketing departments, and promote an active dialogue between the two, she said.
“Amazon doesn't advertise; their goal is to transparently deliver an experience and let people find them,” Daniels said. “I think increasingly patients will be the authors of health system and provider brand.
“A patient is actually going to navigate their own journey through and identify their systems.”