Patient Search Behavior: Meet Your Patients Everywhere and Anywhere They Search


I visited more than 200 health systems in the last year and a half, and more often than not, I’ve heard one common remark: “Traffic to our website is down year-over-year, but appointments are up.”

This is typically followed by the question, “How do we get more traffic to our website?” 

However, this is NOT the right question to ask. Instead, health systems should be asking, “Where are patients finding healthcare information outside of our website?” At Yext, we recently conducted a survey of patient search behavior and found that health systems need to meet their patients wherever and whenever they’re searching.  

What does the current healthcare landscape look like?

In my more than 15 years working in healthcare, I’ve never seen technology change the industry as fast as it has in the past two years. Health systems are up against new industry complexities and are fighting for patients. These patients are using websites, apps, maps, and intelligent services like Siri and Alexa to find health information. One in five searches today are voice searches. This means that the way patients search for and select physicians and health systems is evolving. By 2020, 50% of searches will be performed through voice or image.

In today’s fragmented digital landscape, health systems are having difficulty connecting with patients. This is leading to a potential decrease in patient acquisition — and ultimately less revenue. With physician and health system information living across a variety of places and devices, patients are having trouble finding the right healthcare information in moments that matter.

The patient experience is changing.

We recently conducted a survey to investigate this evolving patient search behavior. We polled 1,000 adults in the U.S. who have done research in the last year to determine a medical condition that they or someone else might have. The results show that search is very important to patients. Health systems need to consider the current search landscape — and anticipate the future landscape.

The survey results show that there is opportunity for health systems to leverage search and intelligent services to meet patients in moments of intent throughout their digital journey.

Today’s patient search journey:

  • Patient suffers symptoms or receives a diagnosis. Two out of three patients look online for more information about their health concerns. Prior to selecting a provider, more than half research their condition or symptom by reading an article online. Very few of these patients ever visit a doctor’s website in this stage of their research, which means your website strategy needs to change.

  • After this research is complete, the patient searches again. More than half of the survey respondents searched specifically for a doctor and want to dive deeper into the details about that doctor. These details include where the doctor is located, what kind of insurance the doctor accepts, and if the doctor is reliable. To assess the doctor’s care, patients will read online reviews.

  • Once the patient selects a doctor, the patient continues searching. A third of patient respondents continued researching the provider after making their selection. And one out of four visited the doctor’s profile page to ensure the doctor’s information was correct.

What do these results mean for you as a physician and for your health system?

  • Consider where you’re spending marketing dollars. Rather than spending them on traditional media, you should shift them to SEO and digital.

  • Ensure your health system’s brand website is not the main focus of your digital strategy. Although your website is important, patients aren’t visiting your site as often as they are other places online.

  • Manage and optimize your health system’s data. Your health system’s information and physician information needs to be accurate and consistent everywhere patients search — including search engines, maps, review sites, directories, and more.
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