how patients search

How patients search for reliable medical information

If you have started out as a doctor more than a decade ago, chances are that Google behaviour never really mattered in the early days of your career. Now it does. In this article, we help you keep an eye on how patients search for medical information and how you can use this to build a contemporary private practice.  

how patients search

How patients search for reliable medical information

Kris Borgraeve - Co-founder Digital Practice

Kris Borgraeve

September 19, 2022

Leading doctors predict what patients search for

google usage by patients

You may have a cynical relationship with Dr Google. The reality is that people ask Google what they want to know about symptoms, conditions, treatments and surgeries. 

In this video, we will look at essential tactics to predict what information you will need next, to make your profile stand out. Ideally, this is the core of your monthly marketing meeting, looking at new data, building new content and analysing what your latest blogs and articles have done for your patient lead generation.

If you have been wondering what leading clinics and specialists in private practice have done to build more authority as a specialist doctor, focus on your content. 

If you are unsure where to start, scroll down and book a free 1:1 Strategy Session to discuss a visibility boost for your private practice.

Symptom checkers, question builders and calculators

patient research

We now know that patient research is a reality. It pays to work on your educational content so you are as visible as possible when patients area are scanning the internet for reliable medical information. 

What else can you do? A lot of the data we collect focus on patient search behaviour.
We know that:

  1. Consumers use a search engine from the very first moments of their healthcare journey. As soon as a symptom worries them, they read up on what others say.
  2. Patients use search engines frequently when it becomes obvious they may suffer from a condition. From here onwards, the goal is to find the most reliable information and patients know that they should prioritise content coming from a qualified healthcare professional. Yes, that’s right. Your content is in high demand.
  3. As the patient journey progresses, the focus goes to the service being delivered, availability, pricing, details about the treatment, recovery expectations and…the person who delivers the service.

We also know that interactive tools such as BMI calculators, automated symptom checkers and questionnaires have a positive impact on your website traffic. Why is that?

When you build in tools that turn the one-way conversation into a dialogue, several things are happening.

For the consumer/patient, it starts feeling more as if you were really asking those questions. It becomes more relevant if your website asks me questions, even if I know it’s an automated form. With the form comes the unspoken promise that you will now read about me, not just the other way around.

For Google, something interesting is happening too. If your website is configured to the latest standards, Google measures how long the patient is staying on your pages. If it turns out patients stay for the three minutes it takes to fill out the form then your page gets that credit.

It has now officially become clear to Google that this particular page you have about weight loss surgery, ACL reconstruction or fertility treatment must be worth displaying when it (Google’s algorithm) makes the next decision. That is, when the next patient is googling.

You can dismiss patient research. But I wouldn’t dismiss the fact that leading doctors use this to grow a strong online presence and a successful private practice.

How patients and doctors are doing an ‘SEO dance’

patients and doctors

Some organisations will help patients make better use of Google for health-related searches.

We tend to sit on the other end of the spectrum, helping you inform your patients in a better way. When we work together, we translate the vision for your practice, and the relevant patient education content, in ongoing content production that makes you visible and brings in referrals.

It is truly a dance between two parties. You, as a doctor publishing content on your website, and the patient who is searching for information using their own words.

Kris Borgraeve - Co-founder Digital Practice
Kris Borgraeve | Co-founder Digital Practice

"Let’s face it. There is a disconnect between people who have attended Medical School and others who haven’t. The terms used in a Google Search may shock and surprise you but after the shock, it is in your best interest to understand what patients are really typing in to Google."

The patient with a high sense of accuracy will Google ‘what are the fertility treatment options other than IVF?’. Another patient will type ‘how come I am not falling pregant?’, as if Google had a magic wand to do a full examination through their webcam. 

The patient with a chronic knee problem might search for ‘causes of knee pain’ but you may or may not be interested in that traffic. The podiatrist, physiotherapist and knee surgeon may all be the right type of healthcare professional to help this particular Google user…but there is more at play here.

Search Intent is the underlying factor to consider when your marketing team builds content for your medical marketing campaign. Who are we targeting? Are we targeting anyone with even the slightest type of knee pain so we can triage? Or are we focusing only on those who will most probably be having knee replacement surgery in the next 2 years?

Search Engine Optimisation is no longer this technical activity of just making you visible for the commodity search ‘knee surgeon Brisbane’. If you seriously expect your marketing campaigns to be a building block for your private practice as a healthcare business, you need a strategic map of search terms that apply to your ideal patient’s journey.

how patients search

Your own role in the Dr Google space

using google as a doctor

Using Google as a doctor can mean two things. You look up things, and you are a Google User. 

What we do here at Digital Practice is train you to use Google from the other end, as a provider of Google-friendly and patient-friendly content.

Kris Borgraeve - Co-founder Digital Practice
Kris Borgraeve | Co-founder Digital Practice

"We know that doctors with increasing organic Google visibility, who are less dependant on Google Ads, also build stronger practices because consumers add more value to content that is non-commercial. And we also know that some of our customers have doubled or tripled their practice turnover since we started applying this methodology."

Using Google as a doctor also comes with a responsibility. Here in Australia, we have the AHPRA Advertising Guidelines for Healthcare Professionals. If you are outside Australia, other rules and regulations may apply to your practice. 

There is a responsibility to make sure every piece of content you produce and publish is 100% compliant.

But there is more at stake.

The ethical expectation is that your online content does not instil fear, paranoia or panic. Some surgery types have become luxury products. Other treatments may be pushed by drug companies.

The best thing to do is to hire an experienced medical communications consultant to balance out your business goals and the ethical and compliance aspects of your communication. As a doctor, you can not be seen to:

  • Push or promote unnecessary treatment
  • Make unsubstantiated claims
  • Offer discounts or other types of commercial packages
  • Misrepresent facts in order to influence the patient’s decisions

There are many ways to build an ongoing medical marketing strategy with reliable information for the patient and the referring general practitioners.

If you are unsure where to start, book a demo and discover how we can transform parts of your knowledge into an online resource for your community.

Let us know if you need help

help with Google

Every private practice has different needs. If you need help with Google visibility, it may be for various reasons: 

  • You want more patients: It probably means you have not established a strong online presence yet, or that your current agency has not optimised your content. In many cases, there is no ongoing monthly pattern of new blogs or pages being added to your website so it is not clear to Google if you are still in business.
  • You want more status: It probably means that your online presence is a tad outdated and needs a little makeover. This may be due to the fact that the website was built a while ago, or it was built in a ‘do-it-yourself’ way without implementing the latest best practices that apply to medical marketing and contemporary web design for doctors.
  • You need a change: It may mean that you want to subspecialise, focus on a particular type of treatments or patients. In this case, it is even more important to continuously monitor the traffic you attract and the type of conversions you aim for, with ongoing evaluation of your visibility and patient numbers.
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offering reliable information to patients

Offering reliable information to patients is one thing. Offering optimised information to the audience is another thing and it requires market expertise, communication skills and business knowledge. Here at Digital Practice, we thrive on helping doctors thrive in private practice and we offer a free 1:1 Strategy Session to learn more about your practice and explore how we can help you develop your clinic.

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