E-patients and How to Engage Them: 4 Steps to Success with Today’s Online Patient

The name Dave deBronkart may not be familiar, but if you’ve been in practice at any point over the last decade, you’ve almost certainly been impacted by his experience.

In January 2007, a routine shoulder X-ray revealed a shadow on deBronkart’s lung, leading to a diagnosis of metastasized kidney cancer. As an early adopter of online technology, he turned to the internet, researching his situation, sharing his experiences with others and becoming actively involved in his care. Along the way, he also became e-Patient Dave, author, speaker, and powerful voice for the embrace of participatory medicine.

Back then, such e-patients were outliers. Today, every patient is an e-patient, so it’s pretty much impossible to overstate the impact people like e-Patient Dave have had on healthcare. In a nutshell, e-patients are engaged, enabled, equipped, and, above all, empowered — and those pursuing aesthetic treatments are no exception:

  • Engaged: The online conversation about elective, aesthetic procedures is diverse, fervent and ongoing. Over 9 million times per month, people visit RealSelf to seek or share information about procedures, providers, and their experiences.
  • Enabled: Tech-savvy, today’s patients are incredibly sophisticated researchers, using search engines, consuming social content, and gathering information from a wide variety of sources before they ever reach out to a practice.
  • Equipped: Armed with that information, they’re increasingly adept at separating fact from myth, promotional pitches from educational content, and getting to know those practices that engage with them, answer their questions, and generate trust.
  • Empowered: Combine all of the above and the result is a huge pool of patients who expect to be actively involved in the decisions regarding their care and unlikely to accept the old status quo. As a recent Gartner report puts it:

An increasingly connected and sophisticated consumer of health care services is emerging with expectations of participation in health care decisions and access to an expanding array of online information and real-time support.

Successful practices embrace the change and adjust their marketing accordingly. Here’s how:

They recognize the entire e-patient journey: According to RealSelf data, one in three aesthetic consumers have researched online for over a year, with 16% spending three or more years. In other words, what happens in your practice or OR is just one element of an experience that incorporates everything from the initial spark of interest to post-care recovery. Every step along the way is an opportunity to connect.

They meet e-patients where they are: As fewer patients rely on personal referrals, more patients turn to the online aesthetic community for recommendations. Practices that maintain an active presence in that community gain great exposure at the exact time that potential patients are getting serious about their plans. At the same time, that community is also like a free focus group, providing socially active practices invaluable insights about patients’ interests, concerns, and experiences.

They share expertise not advertorials: Like all online consumers, e-patients have access to more information than they can possibly process. As a result, they’ve become increasingly adept at filtering out ads, sales pitches and other overly promotional content — and, by extension, those practices that engage in them. Patient-centric practices, on the other hand, share content that addresses patients’ needs and interests, not their own.

They grow their business by building relationships: Participating in the online aesthetic community is not just about acquiring new patients, it’s also about remaining accessible and relevant to current and former ones. (It’s also about listening to what’s being said about you online and resolving issues before they become problems, but that’s another story.) That takes on added significance at a time when more patients are turning to (minimally invasive) procedures that require multiple sessions. Considering that 30% of patients have switched providers in the past and 14% are currently considering a switch, keeping in touch is key to staying top of mind.

Put it all together and it’s clear that e-patients are also e-healthcare consumers. Yes, they’re seeking the specific aesthetic solution that’s right for them, but they’re also shopper-researchers, gathering data and impressions, making informed choices and basing their ultimate decision – which procedure, who’ll perform it – based on what they discover online. And, make no mistake, when it comes to choosing among doctors of equal skill, today’s e-patient will gravitate toward those who provide excellent care and a great experience.

Learn more about how to fire up your online presence with our “Ignite: The ‘Pay It Forward’ Phenomenon” webinar on April 18. 

About Rob Lovitt

Rob Lovitt is a longtime writer and editor who believes every good business has a great story to tell. He has written for dozens of magazines and websites, including NBCnews.com, Expedia.com and the inflight magazines of Alaska, Horizon and Frontier airlines.

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