HIPAA, EHRs, Obamacare — you don’t have to be the sharpest scalpel in the instrument tray to realize that healthcare is in the midst of radical change. But there’s an even bigger, more fundamental shift going on that promises to spell the difference between success and failure for any provider who hopes to engage with today’s healthcare consumer.
As noted previously, a continuous digital transformation is redefining how consumers and companies interact. Given the freewheeling nature of the Internet and social media, it can seem chaotic, confusing and even inappropriate for a regulated industry like healthcare but the rise of the empowered patient doesn’t have to be threatening. In fact, by helping aesthetic consumers as they navigate the process — reducing friction, so to speak — doctors can become empowered providers by understanding the following 5 “rules” and adapting accordingly:
The consumer decision journey is no longer linear
Back in the dark ages — i.e., pre-Internet — the old metaphor of a marketing funnel (awareness leads to consideration leads to purchase, etc.) made sense because would-be patients had few options to gather information. Not anymore. Today’s aesthetic consumer can gather information from countless sources, any one of which can send them in a new direction or restart the process all over again.
What it means for doctors: Doctors who want to connect with patients need to get involved early in the process and commit to the long haul. Those who wait until a potential patient actually contacts their practice are likely to find themselves waiting in vain.
Comparison shopping is expected
Obviously, booking a face lift and buying a new outfit are very different things but they share a common element: Thanks to the Internet, today’s consumer is no longer limited to local providers and comparison shops for almost everything, comparing features, benefits and prices among multiple providers.
What it means for doctors: The Internet in general, and social media in particular, give doctors a powerful outlet to highlight what makes them different than the competition. Whether it’s sharing your practice philosophy or posting prices online, it’s all about ensuring your value proposition is clear and unique.
Community is crucial
If the 5.5 million unique monthly visits to RealSelf suggest anything at all, it’s that aesthetic consumers are truly a sister- (and brother-)hood who rely on each others’ stories and experiences when making decisions about procedures and providers. They are not, as some doctors fear, gripers and complainers, but rather, high-intent consumers who place great value on the insights of those who have gone before them.
What it means for doctors: Online reviews from existing patients speak louder than any marketing material you can produce — they’re the reason social media is often called “word of mouth on steroids.” Encourage reviews via internal systems or services like Patient Engage and the community will do the rest.
Authenticity is essential
Today’s consumers have become exceedingly adept at assessing their interactions with brands and tuning out those they deem to be overly promotional. And while they hate being interrupted by sales pitches in social settings, they appreciate companies and organizations that voluntarily provide the information they’re looking for — and even more so if it’s made available before they even ask.
What it means for doctors: Simply put, sharing, not selling, builds trust and by focusing on the former you demonstrate that you care about patients, that you want to help and that you’re authentic.
Patient-centered marketing is a must
Put the above “rules” together and it should be obvious that digital technology is transforming the entire process of how aesthetic consumers research procedures, weigh their options and ultimately choose their providers. They have become, in a word, empowered and while tradition-bound doctors may find the resulting loss of control disconcerting, the better course is to embrace it simply because there’s no going back.
What it means for doctors: Empowered patients are not just the new reality; they also represent an opportunity for doctors who make the effort to meet those patients as they embark on their own decision journeys. As noted above, doing so builds trust but, perhaps even more important, it’s also empowering as your participation can influence the direction that journey takes.