URGENT MESSAGE: A seismic shift away from traditional marketing toward digital media and popular consumer social media platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube has led most medical practices to focus on attracting and engaging both current and new patients via the internet. Urgent care practices, often the best-kept secrets in their communities, now have an unprecedented opportunity for growth using digital marketing and social media to their advantage.

Parham Javaherian, MBA, is Chief Executive Officer of Practice Builders, Inc. in Irvine, CA.

KellyMattlinlyYou may not realize it, yet, but your internet presence is critical to the continued growth and success of your urgent care practice. Your website is the cornerstone of your online presence—which is why you need more than just a basic website.

Patients Are Looking for You!
Back in 2012, only one out of five doctors believed that patients were actually looking for them online, according to the National Physicians Survey. The fact is that more than 150 million American adults are searching for health information and practitioners on the Internet—and their numbers are still increasing rapidly. Given that reality, merely having a basic website is no longer enough for your urgent care practice; you need to ensure yours is user-friendly for patients; easy to navigate; contains original, informative content; and is properly branded to your practice.
Once you have your website up and running, you want to get the right patients to visit. You need effective search engine optimization (SEO) to make it work for you. SEO is the key to your search engine rankings. It helps patients find you online.

The Importance of SEO
SEO is the critical first step to a strong online presence. Your site should be properly and thoroughly optimized to appear high up in search engine results (preferably on the first page or two) if you really want to generate traffic. When potential patients find your website, they will read your home/welcome page. When they find it interesting enough, they are more likely to share it with their online networks. That’s why it’s important to have sharing capabilities on your website, including links to Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Google+, Yelp, Twitter, or any other social networks you choose.

The main pipeline to your website from various search engines is organic SEO. If you are investing in a website for the first time, you owe it to yourself to ensure your return on investment through organic SEO. SEO catalogs your web pages so that your site appears high on the search engine results page (SERP) every time a prospective patient makes a search query (types a word or phrase into their web browser). Major search engines like Google, Bing, Yahoo!, and MSN index billions of web pages every day to return relevant data to their search patrons. Your current website may have structural “walls” and “bumps” you’re unaware of that prevent search engines from finding you at all.

Studies show that 92% of search engine users see only the first three pages prior to clicking on a result. Don’t allow your site to get buried too deep, where it remains virtually invisible on the web. If necessary, get professional help to make your presence known. When your website is properly optimized, your urgent care practice will benefit from a web presence that is capable of generating a steady stream of new patients.

Branding Online
What’s really different or unique about your practice? What sets you apart from direct competitors such as hospital EDs and other urgent care facilities in your market? What will it take to get you noticed, liked, shared and positively reviewed online? What is your brand?

These questions should be answered through your online presence. You may be wondering why you need a “brand” in the first place. It’s because you must give potential new patients good reasons to choose you over than your competitors. Though a brand may seem simple on its surface, it’s really communications shorthand for the many factors that differentiate one urgent care center from another, including:

  • Accessibility (hours of operation)
  • Availability of services (vs hospital EDs and other urgent care centers)
  • Waiting times (vs hospital EDs)
  • Medical specialties offered
  • Services or programs offered
  • Experience of practitioner(s)
  • Bedside manner (personality)
  • Size of practice
  • Age of practice
  • Location(s) of practice
  • Reputation in the community
  • Reputation among patients
  • Credentials, including subspecialized or advanced training
  • Atmosphere (friendly, helpful, clinical, casual, formal)
  • Technology (high-tech, low-tech, no-tech)
  • Leading-edge procedures

These factors will influence the overall look and feel of your website and social media accounts. Your colors, images, type fonts, messaging and layout choices are other factors that contribute to your online brand. Make sure they are all consistent across your marketing mix, including any printed materials (eg, brochures, stationery and patient education).

How Potential New Patients See You
There has never been a time in history when potential patients and referral sources (your consumers) could scrutinize your practice so closely and so quickly using smartphones, tablets, or computers. And there has never been a time when your practice growth and success relied so heavily on consumer perceptions based on the results of their online searches.

That’s why you are well-advised to look at your practice through their eyes and consider what’s important to them. It is likely to be very different from what’s important to you.

Social Networking Builds Relationships and Referrals
Achieving a strong presence online involves social media. Social media includes major social networking platforms (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, Google+, etc.) that facilitate communicating directly with your patients and prospects. Social media helps you increase your online presence, answer patient questions and build their trust over time. Here are some tips for online patient engagement:

  • Plan what you want to achieve. Start with clear objectives.
  • Consider adding practice images or video to help generate and engage visitors.
  • Remember that social media offers you a platform to engage in real dialogue. If you treat social media solely as a method for pushing promotional messages, you will turn off prospects.
  • Monitor what’s being said about your practice and respond only when necessary, and only in a non-confrontational manner.
  • Make sure you have a good, functioning website for your urgent care practice before you try engaging patients. It’s important to provide a link back to your main website on all of your social media profiles to build your credibility and visibility.
  • Don’t respond to personal healthcare questions on any social media platform.
  • Don’t, under any circumstances, post any identifying information about patients online (be mindful of HIPAA).
  • Don’t “friend” your patients online. Instead, steer them to “like” you on a professional fan page.
  • Don’t expect to achieve results overnight. Success takes time.

Protect Your Reputation—Monitor Online Reviews
Online reviews are shifting the balance of power between the practice and the patient. Social media platforms and more than two dozen review sites have given patients the power of the pen. Unfortunately, patient reviews can be inaccurate and unfair, and they can be difficult to track and monitor. You should also know that:

  • Patients can review you any time after a visit, whether it’s a day or a year after.
  • Patients can review you at any time of day. Further, prospective patients can easily read reviews before you ever see them (assuming that you have a process in place to monitor your reviews daily).
  • Physicians are too busy to check on their reviews (let alone respond to them).
  • Physicians have difficulty responding effectively to positive and negative reviews.
  • Physicians often lack a strategy for dealing with patient reviews.

Your online reviews will directly affect the number of new patients you will see. If you don’t have the time or inclination to manage them, find a marketing partner who can help you and train your staff.

Make It as Easy as 1-2-3-4
Having a strong internet presence boils down to doing four things well:

  1. Creating traffic with your website, SEO, branding and social media.
  2. Turning traffic into leads through calls to action on web pages and web forms.
  3. Turning leads into patients by having trained staff handle phone calls and greet walk-in prospects.
  4. Managing your online reputation to mitigate negative reviews and facilitate more positive reviews.

The ‘Best-Kept Secret’ No More
Your urgent care center should not be the best-kept secret in your community. If more people in the community knew about you and your services, fewer would head for the hospital emergency room every time they had an urgent health matter. If more people knew you could see them in 30 minutes or less, for example, fewer would spend hours waiting in the hospital ED.

It’s time to maximize your online presence with digital marketing and social media to demonstrate your services, accessibility, and availability to your community. Do yourself and your prospective new patients a favor by getting started today.

Use Digital Marketing and Social Media to Attract and Engage New Urgent Care Patients
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