Paging Dr. Google: Search Still Matters for Patients and Doctors (but Social Does, too)

online health seekers pew internet

Source: Pew Internet and American Life Project

You don’t have to be a software engineer to realize that millions of people turn to the Internet every day to research products, services and the businesses that provide them. That’s true for shoes, consumer electronics and, increasingly, for health information.

In fact, according to a new study from the Pew Research Center, 72% of Internet users have looked online for health information of one kind or another within the past year. Understand how they go about it and you can increase the likelihood that their research will lead them to your door.

Far and away, most “online health seekers” start with a general search engine, such as Google, Bing or Yahoo!: 77%, according to the report. That was followed by sites that specialize in health information such as WebMD (13%), general information sites like Wikipedia (2%) and social networks like Facebook (1%).

At the same time, however, significant numbers of those Googlers supplement their search efforts with peer-to-peer support in what the Pew researchers refer to as the “social life of health information.” Among the findings:

  • 30% of Internet users have consulted online reviews or rankings of health care services or treatments
  • 26% say they read or watched someone else’s experience about health or medical issues in the last 12 months
  • 16% say they went online in the last year to find others who might share the same health concerns
social health online reviews

Source: Pew Internet and American Life Project

Doctor Takeaways

1. If you don’t show up, patients won’t either

While chasing Google rankings for ranking’s sake is a fool’s game, it’s safe to say many patients won’t find you at all if you don’t show up in their searches. The first page of search results is prime real estate and you can ensure you “own” the best spots by producing quality content, keeping it fresh and claiming your profiles on all social networks. (As an added bonus, the more page 1 positions you control, the less likely potential patients will see ones you don’t.)

2. Support your search presence by getting social

Having searched on a product or procedure, many online health seekers turn to social media to ask their peers for more detailed information: What to expect? What does it cost? Was it worth it? Doctors who contribute to such forums by providing factual, non-promotional insights make the kind of connections that can transform online conversations into office consultations.

 

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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