Find a Doctor or Find a Phone Number?
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Find a Doctor or Find a Phone Number?

Look at the Google Analytics for your hospital’s website. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Got them up? Now, look at what sections of your site get the most traffic. After you remove careers, what are the top 1-2 sections? If you’re like most clients I’ve spoken to over the years, the “Find a Doctor” section of your website is staring back at you from Google right now. (Seriously, thousands of conversations and only one person said this wasn’t true for them.) As a friend of mine likes to say, “Thanks for the blinding flash of the obvious!” Nothing revolutionary here. It makes sense that people looking for doctors would be a major component of a hospital website. Bear with me for a minute though.

If you’re reading this post, chances are you’re a marketer. Marketing’s goals are what? Broadly speaking, the goal is to get more people to choose your organization, right? If you agree, then in at least the “Find a Doctor” area, your marketing is failing. Miserably.

What?! Look at all that traffic! How can I say your efforts are failing? Like most things in life, we have to look a bit deeper to find the truth. According to a few surveys I’ve seen, one you can find at, only about 3 percent of people looking for a doctor are using your website. In case this stat isn’t hitting you hard enough, let me rephrase.

“97% of people looking for a doctor are NOT using a hospital website to do so.”

For all you Twitter users, here’s where you insert a #FAIL. To add insult to injury, the number of people going online to rate doctors has been doubling in recent years. In other words, a cycle is occurring in which people are researching doctors online NOT using your website and then returning to those sites to rate doctors, which increases the likelihood of others NOT using your website to choose doctors in the future.

In other words, your resource is having almost no influence on people choosing your doctors.

So what are all these people doing on your “Find a Doctor” tool? Let’s look at this from the other angle – what would you be able to do with the information provided on most hospital “Find a Doctor” tools? That’s right. You could look up contact information. Trouble is, when you just need to look up contact information, the decision is already made. Obviously, you’ve got to reach patients before they’ve decided on doctors and therefore the hospital.

To reach patients before the decision point, progressive marketing teams design and build strategies around the user’s journey. They ask, “How can marketing provide tools and information to people at various stages in their buying cycle to foster relationships?” A “Find a Doctor” tool can be an important part in that but not if it’s just a glorified phone book.

Ask yourself what you would need to know about a person to trust him or her with your health. In fact, Consumer Reports even put out a resource to help you begin thinking about it. I know, I know. “But we don’t have this information! I can’t even get my doctors to update their addresses for me.” Again, I want to turn this around. Isn’t it our responsibility as marketers to identify and solve problems that prevent people from choosing us?

If doctors aren’t engaged, maybe we should ask why.

Don’t fall back on the “busy” idea because doctors get engaged with lots of things even though they’re “busy.”

There’s one truth I learned a long time ago. People do exactly what they want to do. Give busy people an all-expense paid vacation to the destination of their choice with a deadline of next week for leaving. If they value the vacation enough, they’ll figure out a way to go no matter how busy they are. So how can we make online profiles valuable to doctors? Perhaps there are several components. Streamlining the data update process is likely one of them. Doctors resist more work because they are likely already updating data for themselves in many other places. How about giving them a system that updates the profile data everywhere it’s needed?

Another component is showing them how a “Find a Doctor” tool grows their practice. Doing that is going to require more than just data showing up online though. You need to have great interface design, search engine optimization, user testing, A/B testing, solid reporting tools, compelling calls to action, and all the use cases for what questions patients, caretakers, and referring physicians need answered in choosing a doctor. Not to mention the different formats and contexts needed for accessing that data.

My point is simply this: if marketing is about getting more people to choose our organization, then we have to do a better job of creating value to those we want to attract. If we don’t add value, we’ve failed.

Can you do all this in-house? Yes. If you have a team that can be devoted to ongoing user testing, user interface iteration, product development, and search/conversion optimization. Most hospitals don’t have the internal resources to devote to this beyond a “once and done” kind of project.

If you have these resources, congrats! Stop reading and get to work. (Or call to talk. I’d love to talk shop as you build things out.) If you don’t have devoted resources for this, I’d love to talk with you about what our team can do. Shameless plug, I know, but I’m a marketer too! Either way, it’s time to stop having other organizations be the brokers of relationships between doctors and patients. You should be the one doing the connecting and relationship building.

Now, let’s get started.

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