Technology has changed the playing field for surgeons. Word-of-mouth referrals are now supplemented by online searches, and are losing traction as the primary patient acquisition channel with the influx of technological innovations. In the new digital landscape, orthopedic surgeons are starting to market themselves more aggressively to stay on pace.
"Orthopedic surgeons have lagged behind (in marketing) because they haven't necessarily been confronted with the idea they need to be marketing," says Garrett Smith, founder of OrthoRank, a company that provides an all-in-one in digital marketing solution for orthopedic surgeons.
Since OrthoRank's inception in 2013, the agency has worked with over a dozen practices and clinicians to bolster their marketing strategy.
"What we tend to see is there are many surgeons that start marketing online with the launch of a website or maybe some basic advertising, but fail to consistently create, manage and optimize their efforts leading to a lack of results," Mr. Smith says. "The problem is that what works online is always changing. What worked a month ago, doesn't work today. Today this means surgeons must make sure to stay up to date and always be marketing their practice which is tough to do with everything else they have on their plate."
1. Google has made significant updates to the way patients access providers via their search engine. Previously, simply having a website would ensure patients could easily find a surgeon. Within the last two years, Google has updated their algorithm to display results for surgeons based on their proximity to the user. A patient searching for an orthopedic surgeon will now see a list of surgeons within a 20-mile radius. The information Google and other search engines currently use to determine which surgeons appears highly for related searches has also changed.
"Essentially, a lot of orthopedic surgeons who invested in websites are not getting the full value because of the changing ways of search engines," Mr. Smith says. "When a patient now conducts a search on Google, the results they see include paid ads, a map of clinic office locations nearest the searcher, three listings of providers based on Google My Business data and then the organic search results containing websites. Your website is now likely to be the third or fourth option to interact with you."
2. Google will compare the name, address and phone number associated with the surgeon across a number of other prominent websites to determine the data's accuracy and legitimacy. If Google cannot track a surgeon's location and specialties, it won't list that surgeon high for related searches, costing them potential patients. "Having all of your practice information exactly the same across the hundreds of prominent directories and online profiles is a strong indicator that you're a legitimate practice that cares about your online brand," Mr. Smith explains. "It's a major undertaking, but search engines do reward those who make the efforts with higher rankings and therefore more new patients."
Another factor influencing a surgeon's ranking on search engines includes acquiring a sufficient number of patient reviews. OrthoRank gives surgeons three recommendations on how to have patients fill out reviews:
• Consistently ask patients to leave a review a part of their daily routine. Have a laptop or other device on-hand so a patient can fill out a review in the office. "What we found works best is physicians engaging with the patient one-on-one," Mr. Smith says. "If you are seeing 80 patients a week and asking every patient for a review, there is no reason at least 10 patients won't fill one out."
• Send patients an automated email asking them to rate the surgeon. Create a survey that displays a zero to 10 rating. If a patient rates a surgeon a six or less, Mr. Smith advises sending the patient to a private page to explain the far-from-stellar experience without the review going public.
• Have your office staff ask patients to leave a review, with take home instructions they can use to complete the review process.
3. Patients are now using social media at an increasing rate in their daily lives and physicians can use these networks to expand their reach. A surgeon should be on "Google my Business" to ensure patients can more easily find a surgeon on Google, as well as Facebook and Twitter. Surgeons can use Facebook to cater to patients who are over 30 years old and Twitter to reach the technologically-based clientele. On Facebook, surgeons can post before and after pictures of patients, which can work to alleviate the stress patients feel when suffering a health condition.
"Most patients come to practice with a knot in their stomach because they are scared about what to expect," says Mr. Smith. "Every surgeon is now in the position to produce content and start dialogues that can untie that knot."
4. Many industry leaders claim consolidation is the future of healthcare, and physician independence is dwindling. Mr. Smith, however, argues healthcare may be trending in the opposite direction. "The recent trend of hospitals aggressively acquiring and hiring orthopedics is slowing or even reversing in some parts of the country," Mr. Smith says. "As acquisitions slow and hospitals downsize as a result of unsustainable economics, ortho-entrepreneurs working in solo or small group practices will see an upswing. Especially if these practices can have a consistent, repeatable stream of new patients from their marketing efforts."
5. Patient advocacy is also changing, and patients are increasingly using physician ratings to determine a physician's value as a provider. Although many orthopedic surgeons may not be marketing themselves, third-party companies are, and display ratings that may not accurately address a surgeon's skill. Third-party companies such as Vitals and HealthGrades often obtain a physician's information and create a profile without permission, where patients can leave different ratings.
6. Large health systems and hospitals often focus on marketing the system as a whole, rather than highlighting what each individual surgeon brings to the table. Many surgeons working at group practices are primarily concerned with the lack of individuality. "The number one complaint I get from surgeons about group practice or hospital systems is that they don't market me," Mr. Smith says.
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