Are You on the Right Side of the Digital Tipping Point?

The world is going native — and doctors who want to remain relevant should too.

No, we’re not talking about adopting local customs when traveling (or forgoing underwear). We’re talking about digital natives, i.e., people who were born during or after the general introduction of digital technologies and, therefore, have been interacting with such technologies all their lives.

(If that’s not you — if you’re, say, 45 or older and can remember more analog-driven times — then you’re what demographers would call a digital immigrant.)

And those millions of digital natives are not just posting cat videos or playing videogames. Among them are the increasing number of doctors who began their careers after the Internet went mainstream and, like their contemporaries, have relied on interactions through connective digital technologies for their entire professional career.

And, if the folks at LBi Health are right, this year represents a tipping point: For the first time (and from here on out), more doctors (51%) will be digital natives than digital immigrants. It may not sound like a major upheaval but, ready or not, the ramifications promise to disrupt every aspect of the profession.

Digital doctors: Not surprisingly, younger doctors are among the most avid adopters of digital technology. According to Kantar Media, 87% of doctors ages 35 and younger use a smartphone for professional purposes vs. 84% for those ages 35–44, 74% for those ages 45­–59 and 59% of those ages 60 and older. And social media usage among doctors ages 26–55 is 22 percentage points higher than for those ages 56–75 (87% vs. 65%), says MedCity News.

Digital patients: Young doctors aren’t the only ones glued to their smartphones and social media feeds. Younger patients instinctively turn to the Internet when considering medical procedures, conducting online searches, consulting medical websites and reading reviews from others to a much greater degree than their older counterparts. When the time comes to contact potential providers, who do you think they’re likely to turn to — those they’ve gained some familiarity with or those they’ve never heard of?

Digital marketing: The above ability to “get to know” — or at least get a sense of — a doctor before meeting him or her is arguably as fundamental a shift as the digital one that enables it. As such, it requires an equally fundamental shift in how doctors interact with people who are not just potential patients but also healthcare consumers. If you don’t meet them early in their “decision journey,” there’s a good chance you won’t meet them at all.

It’s a process that’s reinventing marketing in every industry and well captured in this recent post by Jessica Meher of HubSpot. She’s talking about how the changes impact Chief Marketing Officers, or CMOs, but if you change just a couple of words, her post takes on a whole new resonance:

In a time where buyers are already 60% through the buying cycle before they engage with a vendor, [doctors] need to attract [aesthetic consumers] early in the sales cycle, nurture them until ready to purchase, and help turn them into loyal customers. Investing more in mobile or social isn’t what makes a digital [doctor] truly digital. Modern [doctors] inherently understand how buying behavior has changed and how to get through the clutter by creating valuable content and building an inbound marketing foundation.

The foundation will also provide the stability required to stay on the right side of the digital tipping point.

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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