Regard­less of your views on health­care reform, there’s one thing that every­one can agree on: In 2018, health care is a busi­ness. For years, the major­i­ty of physi­cians relied on insur­ance com­pa­nies and per­son­al refer­rals to dri­ve their busi­ness­es. Mar­ket­ing wasn’t con­sid­ered nec­es­sary to grow their prac­tices and, in fact, could be per­ceived as unpro­fes­sion­al.

Times have changed, and while most med­ical pro­fes­sion­als under­stand the impor­tance of mar­ket­ing to dri­ve their busi­ness growth, they’re only just scratch­ing the sur­face on dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing. In today’s com­pet­i­tive land­scape, where every­one is com­pet­ing for the same patients, doc­tors need to be where patients are — and that’s online. But how can they nav­i­gate this space? Is it just a web­site or do they need to be on social media? How can they get more expo­sure online? These are a few of the ques­tions doc­tors ask me every day.

The truth is, the inter­net has changed the way we com­mu­ni­cate and how we search for things. This includes our health care ques­tions and providers. Even if a patient finds a doc­tor through an insur­ance com­pa­ny, they’ll still Google them and read patient reviews in addi­tion to vis­it­ing the prac­tice web­site before decid­ing to sched­ule an appoint­ment.

In fact, research shows that more than 50% of peo­ple search online for infor­ma­tion about treat­ment options or to learn about health con­cerns or care providers, and 77% of patients use a search engine before book­ing an appoint­ment with a local health­care provider. This means it is imper­a­tive that every med­ical prac­ti­tion­er have a dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing strat­e­gy that enables them to dif­fer­en­ti­ate them­selves and their ser­vices from oth­er local providers.

Cre­at­ing a dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing plan can be daunt­ing for any­one, espe­cial­ly if you aren’t famil­iar with the full range of chan­nels that are avail­able today — from web­sites and social media to email mar­ket­ing and online adver­tis­ing. To help clear up any con­fu­sion, here are five mis­con­cep­tions about dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing in health care, plus some tips on first steps to using dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing to pro­mote a health care prac­tice:

1. Digital marketing costs too much.

First, to do a like-for-like com­par­i­son, you’ll need to look at the cost per thou­sand impres­sions (CPM), which is the adver­tis­ing met­ric that mea­sures how many dol­lars it costs to reach 1,000 peo­ple.

Accord­ing to a media costs com­par­i­son across var­i­ous chan­nels, online mar­ket­ing chan­nels, includ­ing web­sites, search engines and social media, were shown to cost sig­nif­i­cant­ly less than tra­di­tion­al chan­nels such as direct mail, broad­cast TV and radio. In fact, social media is by far the least expen­sive form of dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing, cost­ing less than $3 to pro­vide expo­sure to 1,000 peo­ple. And this doesn’t even take into account the ampli­fied expo­sure received when mul­ti­ple chan­nels are com­bined into an inte­grat­ed mar­ket­ing pro­gram.

2. ROI is not measurable.

When it comes to dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing every­thing is mea­sur­able. All types of pro­grams, includ­ing pay-per-click (PPC), email mar­ket­ing and social media, come with eas­i­ly track­able met­rics such as the num­ber of peo­ple who saw or engaged with your ad.

These cam­paigns only charge for real, qual­i­fied leads instead of impres­sion-based mar­ket­ing, which charges you just to show an ad. By track­ing this infor­ma­tion, it’s pos­si­ble to under­stand not just how many peo­ple “saw” your infor­ma­tion but how many then reached out for more infor­ma­tion or booked an appoint­ment, which trans­lates direct­ly to new busi­ness. PPC adver­tis­ing on sites like Google, Bing and Face­book, in par­tic­u­lar, is extreme­ly easy to track as the click-based cost mod­el pro­vides clear ROI.

3. Online marketing isn’t effective.

One of the best things about online mar­ket­ing is that the results can be imme­di­ate. One of our clients, for exam­ple, decid­ed to test dri­ve social media by focus­ing on Face­book, com­mit­ting to post­ing on a dai­ly basis com­bined with a small paid ad cam­paign. With­in 90 days, they gained 1,000 new fol­low­ers and are now gen­er­at­ing 12 new patients every month from Face­book.
Anoth­er client focused their dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing activ­i­ties around their web­site, with SEO and PPC ads. They now receive more than 200 new appoint­ment requests every month from their web­site. With the right strat­e­gy, your dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing can have a direct impact on your busi­ness growth.

4. When it comes to websites, more is better.

A web­site is an online rep­re­sen­ta­tion of your brick-and-mor­tar health care prac­tice. The last thing you want to hear is that a patient had trou­ble find­ing you, was unhap­py with the infor­ma­tion pro­vid­ed or didn’t like their recep­tion upon arrival.

Sim­i­lar­ly, your web­site should be easy to nav­i­gate and use graph­ics and col­ors that elic­it fur­ther explo­ration. It should have clear calls to action so vis­i­tors can eas­i­ly do things like request appoint­ments, pay bills or com­plete patient paper­work. Your web­site shouldn’t be over­clut­tered with too much text or a “loud” design, and your phone num­ber should be easy to find, at the top of every page.

5. Doctors don’t need to worry about branding.

With so many peo­ple search­ing online for health care providers, physi­cians can’t ignore the impor­tance of their per­son­al brand, espe­cial­ly online. In addi­tion to hav­ing a web­site and social media pres­ence, they also need to pay atten­tion to online reviews. These reviews can gen­er­ate new busi­ness as well as direct­ly impact patient reten­tion rates, with web­sites like Zoc­Doc and Web­MD typ­i­cal­ly show­ing up at the top of many inter­net search­es.

Accord­ing to a recent Soft­ware Advice sur­vey, almost three-quar­ters of sur­veyed patients use online reviews as a first step in find­ing a new doc­tor, while near­ly half would go out of their insur­ance net­work for a doc­tor with favor­able reviews.

Health care patients today are informed and selec­tive. For a health care prac­tice to grow, they’ll need to gen­er­ate new patients and then keep them. To do this, they will need to embrace dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing. It’s the future for every busi­ness, includ­ing health care.