We recently examined the ways voice search has begun to shift consumer behavior, and what that means for the patient experience. There are several things you can do to prepare your health system or medical practice for these changes.
1. Take control over your digital knowledge.
Get your data systems fully aligned so you can identify and share everything that's important about your healthcare system. This includes the usual name, address, phone, email, website, and hours of operation. In healthcare, your digital knowledge also extends to doctors' credentials, conditions treated, services provided, affiliations, payment and provider options, medical papers published, and more.
2. Optimize for search & voice.
This is where things get technical on your website. It's important that you have structured data markup to identify each of the elements mentioned above. Schema.org is the best starting point for this effort, and while it takes work to make sure every address, phone number, and doctor credential is labeled correctly, it sets you up for participation in this world of voice search that patients are exploring.
By investing in this work for your website, you help your content appear in more rich results within the search engine's answers. When excellent content is marked up correctly, it can show up as Answer Box content, which is often featured as the spoken answer to voice search queries (jackpot!). There is a lot of nuance and subtlety here, but this document from Google explains how their Quality Raters are trained to evaluate voice answers (if you want insights into normal organic results, thisGoogle training documents helps).
3. Make your website mobile-friendly.
Google is moving to a mobile-first approach. They've already started the transition and will continue to ramp this up. They now crawl websites and look for a mobile-friendly experience first. How the site works, behaves, and looks on desktop is all secondary now. Take a look at Google's recommendations for ensuring your site is mobile-friendly.
4. Ensure your website is secure.
There is a lot of history with this item, and major engines have been touting the virtues of secure (HTTPS) for several years. But this month, things will get more obvious. For their part, Google intends to have it's Chrome browser flag any site a user tries to visit that's not secure. This may sound scary (and it is for a lot of businesses), but industries such as healthcare and finance are leaders in secure adoption, so chances are good you've already got this one covered. Just be sure it's 100%. "Secure" means 100% secure, not 99%.
5. Set up "Actions" and "Skills."
Google calls them Actions, Amazon calls them Skills. They are both the new way for patients and consumers to interact with smart speakers. You want to play Jeopardy on Alexa? That's a Skill. Want to hear cat jokes on Google Home? There's an Action for that. Now, imagine being able to help a patient understand the difference between a common cold and the flu — just by having a Skill or Action that walks them through a series of exploratory questions leading to a likely result.
For better or worse, WebMD has taught an entire generation of people that self-diagnosis is possible. This is where your expertise in health services can provide an advantage. You can tap your deep knowledge to ensure accuracy. Consumers are turning to digital assistants and voice search more and more, and they will soon turn to them when a minor affliction or accident renders them a patient.
We live in a time when machine learning (AI) is capable of data management and pattern understanding like nothing we've seen before. That side of technology holds the power to discover cures for many diseases, to extend human life spans, and to find efficiencies where we thought none existed. That same machine learning powers voice-enabled digital assistants. And as consumers get their first taste of how helpful these devices and systems can be, they're going to demand more. Convenience is a drug, and we always want more.