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The Patient Experience Isn’t Just SEO: Why Healthcare Providers Must Optimize the Patient Journey

Hospitals and healthcare providers alike are facing more competition than ever before. With over 65% of the population searching online to find information about a healthcare provider, overlooking the importance of search engine optimization could be fatal. Whether seeking the closest available physician or determining which clinics or hospitals have the best ratings, your information needs to be compelling enough for patients to take action.

To improve organic search results that generate unique traffic to their websites, providers are investing in more overall content in the form of blogs, interactive tools and calculators, social media activity, e-newsletters, virtual visits, etc. in addition to including more detailed information.

From a search engine optimization standpoint, this strategy is helpful for driving awareness. However, healthcare organizations should closely examine what happens once traffic lands on their website. Patients often receive a sub-par experience that might include:

  • Finding physicians without pictures and bios
  • Another search to find whether or not that provider is in-network for their health plan
  • Having to “complete this form first” to see if the doctor is accepting new patients
  • Calling a 1-800 number only to wait on hold for the next available agent to take their call
  • Reading about the new state-of-the-art imaging equipment only to find it isn’t available within the local facility
  • No option to schedule a virtual care appointment

None of the above provide an experience that tells the patient that they’re valued as a customer. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Patients want an Amazon-like experience and if there are too many hoops to jump through, they won’t think twice about finding another provider that is more customer-centric. Fortunately, the age of the digital front door has arrived and it provides plenty of opportunities to improve patient engagement.

Here are the top strategies for creating a better patient journey on your website.

Improve informational accessibility

Patients naturally ask a lot of questions ranging from costs of procedures to how late the pharmacy is open. In most cases, the patient would prefer to have their questions answered instantly and on their own time rather than calling on the phone waiting to talk to a live human. It takes a few moments to Google your organization’s website. From there, you need to honestly evaluate how easy it is to navigate and find answers to these questions. Sure, the answers might be there, but how many clicks does it take? And if they go down a path where they didn’t find the answer, can the user backtrack easily without being booted out? Healthcare organizations’ websites are almost as complex as healthcare systems themselves.

Providers need to do a better job of improving the patient experience by simplifying navigation and making the user journey easy to navigate. You should want your prospective patients to find exactly what they’re looking for in as few clicks as possible.

Patients are going to land on your website when they are in greatest need; an urgent medical situation or perhaps an emergency. Instead of redirecting them to another page or another site where they need to scroll and find the information themselves, provide more of a hand-holding service and make it easier. The best way to present this information is through a chatbot that allows prospective patients to seek the information they want anonymously and get answers they need directly without clicking away from your landing page. This will ultimately satisfy more customers, reduce unnecessary staff time and result in more meaningful interactions with patients who need it.

Create workflows to guide patients

Imagine helping your patients find the right doctor, screen for symptoms, fill out medical history forms and estimate the cost of procedures and services all without talking to a human being. Think of some of the routine processes currently being conducted by your front office or the most common questions coming through the call center. The truth is that many of them can be automated today using a workflow capability as part of an AI chatbot.

Thoughtfully crafted workflows demonstrate instant ROI in a number of ways. They dramatically reduce the amount of time your staff is spending on routine patient interactions, which increases productivity for your existing staff and significantly decreases the need for making additional hires. As a result of more satisfied patients using a workflow-guided self-service chatbot, inbound call volumes go down providing opportunities for your staff to create more meaningful, positive customer experiences.

Beyond providing a more streamlined inbound experience, workflows can be helpful for outbound and two-way communication tasks like appointment reminders, payment due date reminders, prescription refill requests and reminders, and gathering insurance information without creating a runaround. From the patient perspective, these personalized messages make them feel valued and cared for, the holy grail of customer experiences. And from the provider perspective, an increase in timely payments produces predictable revenue, the holy grail of any business.

Offer self-service appointment scheduling

Friction is a no-no in today’s digital front door environment. The traditional patient experience requires calling a contact center or the provider’s office directly to schedule an appointment. However, with the advent of simple apps, patient portals and online appointment scheduling systems, it is rare to not have this option offered by most, if not all, healthcare providers today.

While there is some value to having a human gatekeeper for the doctor’s schedule, advanced technology allows your office to have control over which time frames are offered to patients booking appointments online or through a mobile device. As self-service models become the norm, it is imperative to provide a variety of booking options that are easily accessible from any digital touchpoint, while giving the ability to change or cancel appointments at their convenience. Patients expect 24/7 service, and by offering this capability, you’ll vastly improve your conversions.

Make data-driven website decisions

If healthcare organizations intend to drive digital transformation, it requires making data-driven website decisions. Gather data on the information and answers that your patients are seeking so you can adapt website content as necessary.

In our experience, repetitive questions asked of the chatbot are a telltale sign that your website may be lacking critical content and may not be as complete or as detailed as you originally thought. Now you can make the necessary changes, updates or additions and see what happens almost instantaneously. Monitoring and collecting data through a chatbot ultimately helps your landing pages do more legwork in converting visitors.

Chatbots provide a great utility for measuring this information, but they also provide a new level of anonymity that expands the scope of questions your customers will ask. For example, many customers are hesitant to discuss financial difficulties or other personal matters with another person. Repeatedly, chatbots have paved the way for users to ask questions about a wider range of topics, delivering deeper insights into what’s really important to your customers.

Show customer validation

The exploding popularity of ZocDoc, Yelp, and other review sites have made customer validation a necessity to any organization that wants to attract new patients. Most prospective patients spend time thoroughly researching a handful of doctors to understand how others viewed the type of care they received from that physician. In fact, reviews are probably the most important decision criteria when it comes to selecting a doctor.

Bedside manners and emotional intelligence have gained nearly as much importance as a doctor’s competency. And think about it. If you are striving to deliver true patient-centered care, you should be welcoming any and all reviews. Instead of being fearful, repurpose that energy into creating an environment that’s bold. When you take that risk and put yourself out there as an organization that honors and respects what everyone else says about you, that alone will make a huge difference. You gain your patients’ trust and make them more willing to select you as a provider.

Patients have become more sophisticated in selecting healthcare providers and that means facilities need to step up to the plate. It’s time to move beyond search engine optimization and focus on improving the entire website experience to increase patient satisfaction.

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