What the Amazon effect means for doctors and the healthcare industry
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The Amazon effect: 4 game-changing rules doctors need to know now

The Amazon effect on commerce — chiefly, brick-and-mortar retailers — has been well documented since the company’s debut nearly 25 years ago. Today, 95% of the US population use Amazon, and 50% use the app. Amazon dominates the retail web for a few simple reasons:

  • It’s a one-stop shop for virtually everything retail.
  • It’s a comparison shopper’s utopia.
  • Detailed product descriptions are supplemented by community-based Q&As.
  • It’s easy to purchase items in just a few clicks.
  • It’s built a foundation of trust through a large volume of authentic reviews.

The end result is that Amazon has fundamentally and permanently altered consumer behavior and expectations for the shopping experience. Why would they search on individual websites, clicking back and forth between different tabs to compare products, when they can do it all in one convenient location: Amazon.com?

It’s not just retail. Healthcare has yielded to the Amazon effect, too

People today “shop” for doctors the same way they shop for everything else — online — and they have similar preferences and expectations:

  • 77% of patients begin their search for a doctor on the web.
  • 84% use online reviews to inform decisions.
  • 60% of patients will choose one provider over another because of a stronger online reputation.
  • 90% of referred patients will change their mind about a provider because of a poor presence on the web.

Amazon raised the bar for consumer expectations, and there’s no going back. Doctors must have a strong online presence — one that’s also bolstered by patient reviews — on the sites patients and prospects search most.

If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em!

An important lesson from Amazon is that competing with a billion- or trillion-dollar company is counterproductive. Instead of going head-to-head with the mega-brand, savvy SMBs latched on to the marketplace, capitalizing on Amazon’s branding, web dominance, and massive consumer base. Almost half (45%) don’t even have their own business website anymore. They’ve gone all in with Amazon.

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Just as other retailers had to change their models to compete with Amazon, a similar trend has emerged in the healthcare industry across a handful of digital properties. Google sees 93 million healthcare-related searches each year, and its knowledge panel gets as much as 10x more traffic than doctors’ websites. Vitals and Healthgrades make up more than 40 million searches while Yelp hosts 21 million reviews of health services.

But the quest for patient acquisition and loyalty isn’t anymore challenging. You just need to understand the new rules of the game to succeed in the face of stark competition.

Rule #1: Get to know the “Amazons” of the healthcare web

As a practice, you must embrace the Amazon effect to thrive in the new era. Healthgrades, Yelp, Google My Business, and Vitals are the patient destinations that rank the highest among healthcare websites in search results, attract the most patients per month, and host the majority of authentic patient reviews. By remaining active in these “marketplaces,” you boost your brand online, gain exposure to thousands of new patients, and strengthen your overall SEO.

Rule #2: Clean up your act online

You, as a provider, and your practice appear on hundreds — if not thousands — of sites, directories, and listings. There are both pros and cons to this. While inclusion across web properties is a boon for visibility, unfortunately, more than 50% of practices suffer from inaccurate, incomplete, or inconsistent listing information. This makes you harder to find and drags down your SEO. It also means you lose patient trust — and patients, period — possibly forever: 53% of patients wouldn’t book an appointment with a provider that had incomplete or inconsistent information on the web.

Rule #3: Embrace the new word of mouth: online reviews

Reviews have more of an impact on a practice than they’ve ever had before. 72% of prospective patients consider online reviews before choosing a doctor. Managing your reputation is an important step toward getting them through your door.

First, set up or claim your profiles on all the most important healthcare directory sites (aka the “Amazons” of the healthcare world) so your reviews get seen. Then, follow the rules carefully. Sites like Google and Yelp punish brands (and practices) that solicit reviews or incentivize positive feedback. Don’t lose hundreds of great reviews because you neglected the platforms’ policies.

You can read more on mastering online reviews, including best practices for responding to positive and negative feedback, in this free ebook.

Rule #4: Make the last mile painless

Would you want to call a 1-800 number to make a purchase? Or would you rather use Amazon’s one-click option? If you’re like most people, you answered the latter.

This preference for digital is mirrored in the healthcare experience: 45% of patients prefer to request an appointment online, via an app, or through email. They don’t want to get on the phone, wait on hold, and talk to a person to get things done; they want to get on with their day. And this trend continues to grow: By 2019, 2 out of 3 patients will use online scheduling tools to book an appointment.

Currently, most patient and referral leakage happens during this “last mile”: actually getting them to book an appointment. Make sure your patients have the same convenient booking experience wherever they find you — whether that’s Google, Yelp, Healthgrades, Vitals, your own site, or anywhere else. Outside of delivering a better experience for your patients, it also streamlines workflows and lessens workloads for your staff — especially if you sync your real-time calendar availability with online scheduling. (Learn more about digital appointment requests here.)

Every organization has its own set of challenges that differ across specialties and patient demographics. That said, the Amazon effect has caused patient behavior to converge on a few critical points. Try to look at your online presence from a consumer’s perspective to understand how an Amazon-like experience can be applied to the healthcare industry.

Not sure where to start? Run a free scan using Doctor.com’s powerful tool that shows you how your online presence compares to other providers’ and practices’. For a free one-on-one consultation with a Doctor.com expert, click here to schedule a time that works for you.

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