What is Marketing’s Role in the Digital Patient Journey?

The healthcare marketer's role in the patient journey is to provide all the information patients need to find – and choose – your organization.

Carrie Liken

By Carrie Liken

Jan 10, 2024

5 min

When patients seek care from your organization, they're putting their health – and sometimes, even their lives – into your hands. But how do patients choose a new healthcare organization to trust with their wellness?

Typically, they do extensive digital research: 3 out of 4 patients research doctors and dentists online. And they aren't just looking up your healthcare organization's name. They want to know information like:

  • where your location is

  • who your physicians are

  • what other patients' experiences were like

  • which treatment options are available

  • and more

As a healthcare marketer, you aren't treating patients yourself. But you still play a vital part in the digital patient journey. Your role is to give patients all the information they need to find and choose your organization.

What is a patient journey?

The patient journey encompasses every stage of the patient experience, including:

  • Awareness: In this stage, patients research symptoms and possible causes, the diagnostic process, care and treatment options, and physicians.

  • Choosing care: Once a patient has decided to make an appointment, it's time to choose a healthcare organization and make an appointment with a provider.

  • Receiving care: This includes initial appointments, diagnostic testing, and the development of treatment plans.

  • Ongoing care: After the patient has received care, follow-up appointments and continued treatments may be necessary.

As a digital marketer, you have the most control – and impact – during the awareness and choosing care stages. By optimizing the early stages of the patient journey, you can positively impact patient acquisition.

The digital marketer’s role during the patient journey

Although you aren't treating the patient yourself, healthcare marketers help connect patients with care options. As an example, consider the care journey for a woman with severe hip pain.

The patient's expectations during the awareness stage of their journey

Let's say a patient is experiencing severe hip pain. She types her symptoms into a search engine, and a webpage on osteoarthritis shows up in the search results. Based on the information she finds there, she now knows that her hip pain could indicate a serious problem, and she needs to consult a doctor.

As a digital marketer, you can help the patient during this stage of their journey with helpful content. This might include a landing page that describes this condition in-depth. To encourage the patient to make an appointment with your healthcare organization, you could also include providers who perform hip replacements on the webpage. Listing your surgical locations, hours of operations, contact information for ortho-surgical consults, and appointment availability can also help the patient take the next step in their healthcare journey.

Pro tip for healthcare marketers: Because of the many recent privacy updates in both healthcare and marketing industries, site analytics have been harder to collect. But if you have access to your metrics, you'll want to monitor them. How are patients interacting with you online? Are they finding what they need? Session data such as average engagement time on page and page depth can help you understand where your digital presence meets or exceeds expectations. It also helps you identify low-performing webpages, so you can improve the patient's healthcare experience from the earliest stages of their journey.

After finding your page, the patient is aware that she needs to consult a doctor. She makes an appointment with her primary care physician, who refers her to an orthopedic physician. There, she learns from her doctor that she needs a hip replacement. Now, she needs to choose care.

How to help patients choose your healthcare organization for care

Now that the patient has reached the choosing care stage of her journey, it's time to evaluate her options. Like 80% of Americans, she spends time researching the surgery and recovery time.

While researching, she finds the surgeon her doctor referred her to. She also searches for other surgeons that specialize in hip replacements. The patient looks at the average ratings of the doctor, reads reviews from past patients, and combs over the surgeon's profile pages.

Pro tip for healthcare marketers: When it comes to healthcare marketing data, it's important for your health system to tag doctors as specifically as possible. In this example, you'd want to tag your doctors as an orthopedic surgeon, and sub-tag the doctors as hip, shoulder, and/or knee specialists. This helps the patient find the right surgeon for their care. And by looking at performance data (like new users versus returning users, average engagement time on page, and conversion rates), you can better understand which providers, specialties, and treatments are in high demand. Then, you can begin to think of your providers as inventory — and use this information to help patients find your organization.

As a digital marketer, you can help her make a decision on her care with easy-to-find reviews on the web pages she visits. This is an important step for this patient persona: in fact, 79% of patients believe that reviews are important in selecting care. Once the patient finds the right physician and healthcare system for her, she makes an appointment for her first surgical consult.

At this point, digital marketers should make it as easy as possible for potential patients to make an appointment. Offer different options for scheduling: the patient might want to book online, or they may look for the phone number to the surgeon's office. However the patient wants to interact, marketing's goal is to make it as easy as possible to go from choosing care to receiving care.

Healthcare marketers give visibility to your healthcare organization. Ultimately, this helps your patients choose the care that's right for them.

Read next: How to Help Patients Find (and Choose) Your Healthcare Organization

Your healthcare organization needs a strong digital presence across channels so patients can find you (and choose you) during moments of high intent. Learn how marketers today manage many channels — and the patient journey.

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