If You Build It, Will They Come?

For the past 15 years, I’ve spent my career working and interacting with healthcare executives across the country. Only recently, however, have I seen healthcare system leaders make meaningful investments in their digital footprint to complement investments in their physical footprint.

The nature of health systems’ investments have also changed, shifting from an early emphasis on internal EMR infrastructure to a focus on developing a greater online presence to capture the attention of the newly empowered healthcare consumer. This has translated into significant investments in website search engine optimization (“SEO”), in improving online physician profiles, in publishing consumer ratings and reviews, and even building consumer apps to support ongoing engagement.

While all these actions are necessary, are they sufficient? In other words: if you build it, will they come?

Alas, health systems’ websites may not be able to put a full team on the digital field of dreams if other industries such as travel and retail offer insights on consumer behavior. While investments in SEO will increase (or at least sustain) health system website traffic, the click through rate for a top-ranked search engine listing is typically only 15% to 25%. That leaves more than 75% of a health systems’ potential market unaccounted for, even if a consumer was actively searching for a physician at that health system! If consumers who are considering physicians at local competing care institution, a health system is likely missing close to 90% of their addressable market by employing a digital strategy focused principally on optimizing their website. Moreover, as search engines continue to modify their algorithms and content presentation, relying principally on SEO is becoming an even less effective strategy. For this reason, the name of the game in e-commerce is channel diversification.

Undoubtedly, healthcare executives see these trends from outside of healthcare, if only in their own search behavior, which likely includes maps, apps, and other third-party aggregators in addition to search engines. However, these leaders tend to express two concerns about expanding their organization’s presence and visibility beyond their website. First, there is the perception that doing so is expensive. Second, health system executives often say that they need to own the patient relationship. I’d like to address each of these concerns.

First, cost is always going to be an important consideration in making any investment in a third-party relationship. But this is the wrong question to ask. Instead, health system leaders should be asking whether a third-party can deliver demonstrable results and a return on their investment (“ROI”). ROI shouldn’t be a guessing game based on assumptions of downstream conversion from consumer impressions or clicks. Rather, it should be based on and measured against verifiable encounters that a consumer or patient has with a health system. Then and only then can health system leaders ask whether the cost of patient acquisition is commensurate with the value delivered by a third party.

Scott Booker, our CEO here at Healthgrades and former President of Hotels.com, has extensive experience in the economic relationships between third-party aggregators and the providers of travel services. He points out that over time, those economic terms have evolved and settled at a level that represents the value created by the third party. For example, the margins for third parties selling airline tickets is quite thin since consumers typically choose an airline base on commoditized information (e.g., price, trip time, and duration). Conversely, the margins for third parties selling hotel rooms is more robust because the third party curates information on the traveler experience at any given hotel.

Second, healthcare providers SHOULD own the relationship with the patient. Health system executives should ask any third-party site what is more important: enhancing the brand of their healthcare provider customers or building their own brand. The marketing tactics employed by such third parties will provide fairly clear evidence about their focus and orientation. Here at Healthgrades, the answer is pretty clear. All of our core product offerings to health systems (i.e. healthgrades.com, our CRM solution, our agency offerings) are all dedicated to building the brand of our health system partners.

At the end of the day, Healthgrades is successful when we build stronger and more meaningful connections between patients and the healthcare providers that serve them. By extending the digital footprint and visibility in the market of our health system partners, we not only help them find new patients, we also find them the right patients that align with their care providers’ experience and care philosophy.

In a world where health systems are increasingly focused on creating relationships with new patients and healthcare consumers, the only question is why health systems aren’t investing more to reach the 90 percent of consumers that aren’t visiting their website?

 

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