How Health and Wellness Providers Can Ethically and Effectively Encourage Patients to Reach Out
First of all, what is the patient’s digital journey? It’s the process that an individual goes through, starting with identifying a presenting health problem all the way through scheduling an appointment with and receiving care from a health or wellness provider. The providers that I’ll be focusing on in this article are healthcare workers that are self- employed in a private practice or small healthcare business. We’ll focus on the patient’s digital experience since more and more people are turning to the internet to learn about their symptoms and find a qualified professional.
I have been a licensed professional counselor since 2005. I have personal experience in building a mental health digital brand to attract clients. I teach local workshops to help healthcare workers build their online presence and ethically influence clients to reach out and schedule appointments. In 2013, I launched my first online healthcare directory, Portland Therapy Center. Hundreds of therapists have signed up for a profile and it is now the most popular healthcare directory for the city of Portland. Since launching the site, I have collected tons of proprietary data that has assisted me in understanding user behavior when seeking healthcare services. At the start of 2016, I launched my second healthcare care directory, Wellpdx. Wellpdx is an alternative healthcare directory for acupuncturists, chiropractors, massage therapists and naturopathic doctors. More recently I have launched Practice Academy. Here at the Practice Academy I teach health and wellness providers how to improve their digital brand and attract more clients online.
With over ten years of experience studying the digital patient journey, I have uncovered some interesting patterns and insights. The digital patient journey has changed in the last ten years and will continue evolve as technology evolves. In 2015, Google decided to provide relevant medical information front and center on their search engine results pages. Now, instead of searching for a health issue, looking through the search results, and clicking a website for more information, Google provides information about the health issue, it’s symptoms and treatments, in their “knowledge graph” right next to the search results. To see it in action, Google “Anxiety Symptoms.”
Google says that one in twenty searches are for information related to health. Google also estimates that there are over 3.5 billion searches per day. That means that there are over 175 million health-related searches every day.
The Patient’s Digital Journey
The first step on the journey is for the patient or client to become aware that something is wrong. That something in their mind or body doesn’t feel quite right. This awareness may come from the person themselves. Which makes sense. People are the experts on their bodies and are finely attuned to how they typically feel. When a person feels pain, physically, emotionally, mentally or spiritually, they tend to notice it right away. However, there are exceptions to this rule. Sometimes a person must be told by friends, family members, coworkers or healthcare providers, like a primary care physician, that they could be experiencing a health issue.
Once the patient becomes aware of their presenting problem they have a choice. They can ignore and avoid the issue. Or they can move to the next phase in the journey and actively research the problem.
After becoming aware of the health concern, some people will turn to their friends, families, doctors and other people in order to learn more about their symptoms and diagnosis. However, many will turn to the Internet to privately research their issue.
When patients first start to research their health issue, their search queries will be very broad and general. Such as, “neck pain,” “sadness,” or “stress.” When a patient is searching general terms like these, they’ll encounter four major websites that show up near the top of search results. Those websites are:
All four of these websites have a wealth of information. They do really well at listing definitions, symptoms, causes, treatments and other important information about the health issue.
Patients may read through the content on these websites and also visit other websites that have similar information. This phase can last hours or years. Eventually the patient will become more detailed in their search terms and start to identify what exactly may be bothering them. They move from a general understanding to a more refined one.
Once they are confident in their self-diagnosis, they will either choose to ignore and avoid it, care for it themselves by applying treatments recommended through their research, or seek treatment from a professional.
Researching Health and Wellness Professionals
There are many different ways to start researching healthcare providers on the internet. This research phase is what I have the most data on, so I am going to spend more time here. I will focus on two popular paths that patients take at this phase. Both paths eventually lead to the same destination of reaching out to a professional with questions or to schedule an appointment.
Path A: Healthcare Directory or Business Listing
On this path the patient, with diagnosis in hand, goes to the internet and performs a web search with the type of practitioner in mind. Let’s imagine the patient is suffering from and seeking treatment for insomnia. Through research, the patient has found that they can seek care from a mental health therapist, medical doctor, naturopathic doctor or clinical hypnotist. The patient has decided to find a therapist to address their issue.
If the patient performs any type of broad or general web search such as, “Therapist in Portland,” the first page of results will be filled with national and local directories and business listings. When the patient clicks through on one of the options they will be confronted with many different profiles to choose from and research more thoroughly.
Therapists, along with many other health professionals, are routinely listed on healthcare directory sites and online business listings. There are national directory listings, such as Psychology Today, and more local listings such as, Portland Therapy Center. The patient may choose to look through other online directories such as Yelp or Google business listings. Whichever online service the patient chooses, they will be met with a similar design and layout.
Typically the patient will sift through photos of the providers at first. I’d like to dive into what makes a successful marketing photo for healthcare workers. I won’t go into detail about every element that attracts the most clicks from a potential patient, but I will list some important factors. If you’re interested in learning about all of the most important elements of a marketing photo, you can download the guide that I have created to compliment this article.
For the sake of brevity, I’ll list three important factors that the data shows attracts more clicks from patients on this part of the journey.
- Composition – Photos that are extreme close-ups or full-body shots do not get clicked on as much as photos that are in between. Headshot that include part of the chest, shoulders, and neck then to be the most successful.
- Location – Clients respond best to outdoor photos. Photos that have something green and natural in the background tend to perform best.
- Contrast – Make sure your photo has good contrast. Meaning that the picture is sharp in the foreground and a little blurry in the background. Contrast helps to convey emotion and engages the viewer by drawing them into the shot.
Once the patient clicks on a photo of the practitioner, they are then taken to their full profile page. This is where the content that has been written by the provider will become incredibly important. Profiles listings force healthcare professionals to condense the most important information into a small amount of text.
I have a lot of research about what makes a successful profile and business listing. If you’d like to read the full report, be sure to download the accompanying guide . For this article I’ll focus on a couple factors that stand out and encourage the patient to continue on the journey of eventually reaching out to a practitioner.
- The data shows that patients respond best to profile content that is concise and uses short sentences. This keeps practitioners from rambling and it also resonates with readers. Healthcare workers need to keep in mind here that patients are still browsing through many different profiles. They’ll often read the first couple sentences of a profile and move on. Patients are essentially window shopping during this part of the journey.
- This next recommendation flies in the face of what marketing professionals have been preaching for a very long time. But the data I have collected from thousands of visitors points to a strong trend: Patients do not respond well to profile content that focuses mainly on the practitioner’s ideal client or niche. Directory listings are the doorways to your websites where you have more room to focus on niche audiences that you service. Patients are attracted to profiles that are more general, inclusive and display authority and trust.
The Healthcare Provider’s Websites
After the patient sifts through a number of profiles that they are interested in, they typically narrow down their list of possibilities to just a few providers that they would be interested in seeing. At this point they may decide not to click through to the practitioner’s website in order to learn more and they may simply send an email or call them on the phone to schedule a session. However, most patients at this point in the journey decide to click through to the practitioner’s professional website.
In a recent blog post I wrote about how the homepage has evolved over the years and what patients are looking for when they land on the homepage of a healthcare worker. What I mentioned in that article applies to the journey of the patient. When patients land on a homepage it needs to be easy to navigate and feel comfortable and intuitive. Patients should be able to easily find and get to all the different pages of the website. If a homepage feels messy, confusing or has too much information the patient will quickly click back to the profile directory to find a different provider.
The homepage, and the rest of the healthcare provider’s website, really starts to develop a rapport and connection with the patient. Up until now, the patient has been using websites and search engines that are designed and created by other companies and organizations. Once the patient lands on the health or wellness provider’s own website they are able to first see a 100% representation of who this practitioner is. Even though the homepage may not contain a lot of content, it does have a large emotional and mental impact on the visitor, which may make it the most important page of your website.
Because of the importance of this page, healthcare workers must use approachable language. It should be your priority to make patients feel comfortable and welcomed. Focus on coming across as friendly and likable. The more the patient likes you, the more they can picture themselves being treated by you. For many more tips on creating a homepage that resonates with prospective clients and patients, download the accompanying guide.
The About Page
Many times the patient decides to visit the about page in order to develop more trust and authority with the practitioner before moving on to learning what issues and techniques the provider uses.
At this point on the journey, patients are drawn to providers that go into more depth about their degrees, trainings and certificates. Patients are looking for providers to proudly display their achievements.
Patients also gravitate towards about pages that display social proof. If a practitioner displays testimonials and reviews, it can positively influence the patient to reach out and schedule an appointment. When patients see like-minded people making smart health decisions, they feel more motivated to make contact. To get all the details on what makes an ideal about page download this guide.
Typically, once the patient has started a digital relationship with a provider (often through the homepage and about page), they move on to reading more in depth about the issues and techniques that the healthcare provider specializes in. I call these pages on a website “specialty” pages.
These specialty pages are similar to the pages they found at the beginning of their journey on wikipedia and WebMD. However, these pages are not as broad and general and they allow the provider to go into detail about what they think about the issue and how they are uniquely qualified to treat it.
Patients want to know specifically how their issue will be addressed. The patient that is struggling with insomnia will look for the following items on a specialty page:
- How the healthcare provider defines insomnia
- The signs and symptoms of insomnia
- The causes of insomnia
- How the practitioner will treat the insomnia. This may be the most important part of the specialty page. If the patient can believe that the treatment may work for them and start to develop hope, then their chances of scheduling an appointment skyrocket.
- Typical outcomes of treatment. Again, this is another area that creates hope and allows the patient to visualize feeling healthy.
- Frequently asked questions about insomnia and how to treat it. This is where the practitioner can address all the questions that they are asked in person when treating patients.
For more on what patients are looking for in a specialty page download the accompanying guide.
Once the patient feels satisfied with the information they have gathered and the digital rapport they have developed with the practitioner, they will then visit the contact page. It’s important not to neglect the contact page because, in most cases, it is the last part of the patient journey before reaching out to the provider. A messy or complicated contact page could destroy the positive digital relationship that has been created.
Three key tips for every contact page:
- The contact page should provide only the most necessary information. A cluttered contact page makes patients feel overwhelmed.
- Don’t forget to make one last emotional connection. Making that first appointment can be a scary or nerve-racking experience for patients. Acknowledge that on the contact page. Communicating that you know that finding the right provider can be a difficult journey will help put the patient’s mind at ease.
- Tell the patient what they should bring. They’ll want to know if they should fill out paperwork in advance, bring their insurance card, or wear comfortable clothes at their first appointment. Spelling it out clearly will mitigate any uncertainty the patient may be feeling.
For six other key elements that should be on the contact page, download this guide.
Path B: Long-Tail Keyword Web Search
On path A, the patient performed a web search with general keywords that led them to a healthcare directory or local business listing website.
On path B, the patient is much more detailed in their search for a health or wellness provider. In this case they will type a long-tail keyword into a search engine. Long-tail keywords are typically search queries that are over four words long and can be very specific. An example might be a Google search for “feeling anxious and codependent in relationship therapy portland” (which should lead you directly to my codependency specialty page).
On this path, there is a good chance that the patient will never see a directory or business listing website. Long-tail keywords often lead directly to healthcare provider’s websites and land the searcher directly on specialty pages. Following the guide on how to create an effective specialty page is crucial.
Typically, patients that type in long-tail keywords are ready to make an appointment sooner than the patient on path A. These patients tend to be better matches for healthcare providers because they are more aligned with the expertise of the practitioner.
After the patient lands on the specialty page, they will eventually visit the about page to learn more about the provider. If satisfied, they will head to the contact page and reach out for an appointment.
Reaching out for an Appointment
The last step for the patient on the digital journey is to set up and confirm an appointment time. This last step should be taken seriously by the healthcare provider because this is the first time that the patient is making contact with them. The human relationship begins at this point and the digital relationship that was created prior soon comes to an end.
At this time the patient could be feeling a rainbow of emotions. They might feel vulnerable, anxious, overwhelmed, uncertain, enthusiastic, urgent, or hopeful. As the practitioner, it is important to respond back to the client within 24 hours. If the patient does not receive a timely reply, that could jeopardize and possibly ruin the newly created relationship.