9 Digital Patient Engagement & Hospital Marketing Strategies to Improve Patient Acquisition and Retention

The value of your hospital's marketing efforts, both traditionally and online, can yield significant return on your marketing dollars. As consumers become more tech savvy, their online shopping transcends into the search for healthcare. Digital marketing amplifies your brand, raises awareness about your events and efforts in the community, and educates your patient populations. In turn, a focus on a digital strategy can help meet your patient acquisition objectives and boost patient loyalty while driving revenue in and back through the hospital and affiliated physicians.

What are some of these different strategies and blended approaches to attract and maintain a loyal patient base? Ensure your organization is utilizing or leveraging these key objectives to drive measureable return on your marketing investment:

Digital strategies to acquire new patients
The key to acquiring new patients digitally is simply making sure your organization and its information is easily accessible for those who need it quickest: physicians, patients and staff. Harness the strengths of technology to ensure your brand is discoverable online and create powerful, user-friendly tools.

  • Check your search engine optimization. How does your organization organically rank within search engines for key words correlating with different patient needs? Is your competitor ranked above you for service line information? According to The Pew Research Center, 97 percent of web users search online for healthcare information, 30 million search online for a physician each month, and 80 percent of clicks are on the top three searches.1 Ranking in this prime real estate for identified keywords can drive optimal payer mix and revenue to newly acquired or affiliated physicians. To demonstrate this value, a major Southeast health system implemented an enhanced online physician referral program that was able to drive 49 percent more commercial payer mix visits than their traditional physician referral program.2

  • Add a toolbar of "quick links." Once the potential consumer lands on your website, what are they seeing? Are they able to easily find the information they need? How is the user experience? This is where you can supplement high-priority information with a specific call-to-action that can drive immediate decision making for current or potential patients. Adding a toolbar like this will ease navigation and land your visitors to the page they want, and quickly. Topics for this section can include "Find a Physician," online chat, bill pay, location information, event and class registration and general "Contact Us" information.

  • Include referral phone number and other key info on all pages. Want to make important information, such as your referral phone number, readily available on your website? Include it on every page. This can be in a footer, a side bar, or even better, in the banner of the website, right in plain sight. Use caution and advertise the difference between your referral line and your switchboard line. Routing your patient to the proper point of communication is a valuable first impression. With the right tools and resources in place, tracking and monitoring inbound phone calls can tie hospital revenue directly back to the patient who visited your website.

  • Make a call to action. Get the attention of page visitors with direct calls to action. For example, along with the physician referral information and phone number, consider adding attention-grabbing text such as, "Need to make an appointment?" This helps prompt patients who have these questions to take action, without having to click through countless pages. Hospitals and physicians should also consider online chat features to expand patient access to care. Information capture along the way, through data download forms or from an inbound phone call or online chat can drive immediate follow-up and target marketing.

  • Leverage your website. With 80 percent of internet users looking for health information online, 66 percent of those users are looking for information on diseases or current conditions.3 Take advantage of your online real estate by using it to host blogs, videos and other information. You can promote wellness tips that correlate with the current health observance, emphasize preventative care tips for chronic disease or host spotlight videos of actual physicians discussing these tips. Also, consider patient communities such as mom-to-be microsites. Be the source of truth for those planning to be moms, soon to be moms and current moms that are past patients. Create a wealth of information through interactive learning guides, videos, tips and message boards for your patients to interact with other moms in the community and associate that trust with your brand. This strategy can be mimicked to drive downstream revenue to the most profitable service lines.  

  • Leverage your social channels. Individuals ages 18-24 trust information found on social media — a large consumer segment that has potential to become a lifetime patient.3 If you have invested in digital marketing, you want to share your resources across multiple channels to ensure you are continuing to drive traffic into your website. Encourage your staff and physicians to engage with your organization online, further spreading the reach and frequency needed to attract new patients while tying trustworthy associates to your hospital brand.

These tactics provide significant value to your brand that can influence customers' purchasing decisions when shopping around for healthcare.

Patient retention through online engagement

For the engaged and technology-savvy patient, hospitals can leverage social media channels, apps or patient portals to keep existing patients in-network by promoting value-added services.

  • Create segmented conversations. While those new to social media may use a blanket approach — setting up only one Twitter and one Facebook account, and posting everything to them — it's a good idea to create various accounts for different segments of your audience. Though the audiences may be smaller with these accounts, a segmented online presence gives you the opportunity to cultivate a truly engaged audience, as the members will be more interested in the niche content you’re posting. Examples of this would be creating social media accounts specific to bariatric patients, pediatrics, diabetes and so on, and publishing content of interest to these particular audiences.

  • Take support groups beyond weekly meetings. In addition to other applications, social media networks also give healthcare organizations the ability to create "extensions of real life face-to-face patient support groups."4
 For healthcare organizations with support groups including those for cancer care, smoking cessation, diabetes and so forth, "closed" online support groups — meaning those not open to the public and requiring a log-in — can help to fill the gap of support needed by many between in-person group gatherings. Currently, many healthcare organizations are utilizing closed Facebook groups or Google hangouts for this purpose.

  • Listen and respond. Some healthcare providers are missing a great chance to improve the patient experience if they don't monitor for and acknowledge easily rectified, common online complaints about the organization, such as appointment preparedness confusion or parking woes. "This is where conversations are moving, where they're [the public] talking about you, and if you don't participate, you are cut off from the discussion," said Ed Bennett, who manages web operations at the University of Maryland Medical System, in an article for Healthy Debate.4
Make room in your social media strategy for listening to what's being said about your brand online, and use any information you gather to directly address opportunities within your organization to create an overall better patient experience.

As hospitals work even harder to elevate their presence in a highly competitive market, online marketing strategies can improve retention, open lines of communication and boost the experience for patients and healthcare providers.




1 Pew Internet—Pew Research Center, The Social Life of Health Information, 2011. http://pewinternet.org/~/media/files/reports/2011/pip_social_life_of_health_info.pdf
2 BerylHealth, Case Study: Enhanced Web Referral Program Drives Better Payer Mix, 2013.
3 Geonetric, Infographic: How Health Consumers Engage Online, 2012. http://geovoices.geonetric.com/2012/11/infographic-how-health-consumers-engage-online/
4 HealthyDebate, How to Begin to Recognize Social Media’s Potential to Improve Patient Experience, 2013. http://healthydebate.ca/2013/02/topic/innovation/social-media-in-hospitals


Matthew Holz leads the strategy and product development efforts for BerylHealth's marketing services product. Mr. Holz comes to his position having over 10 years of market and product development experience. Prior to his work at BerylHealth, Mr. Holz was the healthcare product manager for a regional data management and analytics company in Cleveland. 

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