The internet has its advantages in terms of giving patients access to information regarding their health. Patients searching for healthcare advice and information online isn’t always a bad thing. There are important things to keep in mind when checking with “Dr. Google”. This benefit, however, comes at a cost. Google, the king of search engines, presents many challenges to the health care sector, some of which will be discussed in this article.
Emerging Trends in Patient Behavior and Expectations
These days, hospitals and practices have to deal with the challenge of changing consumer behavior, mainly because these health care providers find it challenging to adapt to the needs of their consumers.
For instance, oral health statistics show that today’s patients want the best possible comfort, care, and ease of treatment when it concerns their health. They are already getting these pleasurable experiences in other areas of their lives, so they see no reason why things should be different when it comes to receiving healthcare.
Consumers have been empowered in other sectors, so if healthcare providers cannot mirror these customer service experiences and include them in their healthcare practices, patients go elsewhere in search of them.
Gone are the days when all you needed to do as a health care provider was to look for a suitable location, and the residents came trooping in like ants going to carry sugar granules. Patients are no longer choosing hospitals closest to their homes – they are visiting hospitals and clinics that can provide them with the best patient experience that meets their expectations.
Health consumers are increasingly seeking health care facilities that can provide them with online health care services like consultations, scheduling appointments, and access to quality health information.
Online Reviews from Healthcare Rating Websites
Whether healthcare professionals like it or not, patients now want to know what other people are saying about any hospital or practices before going to visit. A lot of doctors refuse to focus on this trend – they still want to hold on to their credentials and believe that is the only thing their patients need.
However, the majority of health consumers these days go on the search engines to learn what other people are saying about any healthcare facilities they are taking into consideration.
Online reviews are the credentials patients are looking into first before the actual credentials. If a healthcare facility already has poor or average reviews online, patients will hardly ever visit such a provider – they will immediately move on to a hospital or practice with more favorable reviews.
Healthcare professionals should start investing in how they are perceived in the internet community. Health care providers can quickly get reviews from patients who are pleased with their services by using an automated online review management system on their websites.
Another way healthcare providers can invest in online reputation is by setting up an attractive referral management system for current patients. When patients know they will get a reward for recommending a hospital online, they will be more eager to do so.
Marketing Limitations of HIPAA
Healthcare boards took a long time before they decided it was considered ethical to market hospitals and practices, even though it had been long decriminalized in the 1970s. Today, many are still finding it hard to adjust to these developments in the ethics and legality of healthcare marketing.
In the healthcare industry, HIPAA is a very delicate issue in medical advertising, and even Dr. Google is not left out. Google Ads remarketing tools can be used by regular businesses to display ads to their website visitors or people who have shown interest in their products or services – this is not the case for the healthcare industry.
Although Google allows healthcare marketers to use pay-per-click advertising to place their websites or landing pages at the top positions of Google search results – however, due to HIPAA concerns, they are not allowed to retarget past visitors of their websites.
The health organizations that are exempt from this Google rule are Government or non-profit health advocacy organizations, online pharmacies, and pharmaceutical manufacturers.
Unsolicited Advice on the Internet
The ease of access to information has both advantages and disadvantages. Access to select, accurate information on the internet indeed improves patients’ knowledge of their condition, but not every information on Google can be considered valid.
Health consumers can search for medical information online for different reasons, including questions, debates, self-diagnoses, and self-management of any medical conditions they may have.
Because not all sources of online health information on the web offer high-quality information, and some sites may be outrightly misleading, this has led to increased concerns among providers of medical products and services.
Recent studies, however, have alleviated these concerns. Research has shown that obtaining online health information does not have a significant impact on treatment concordance as long as there is a good healthcare consumer – healthcare provider relationships.
From another angle, some studies also suggest that some healthcare professionals may feel that their authority is being challenged in the presence of an independent, well-informed patient. This may have a considerable impact on the consumer – professional relationship.
Also, because the information available on the web is highly voluminous and too inconsistent, patient confusion is common, especially among patients with online navigational needs.
Nonetheless, some attempts and suggestions have been made to address and resolve some of these challenges. Google has attempted to fix this via Knowledge Graphs. In Google’s Knowledge Graphs, health information from credible sources is presented in a summarized form.
One suggestion is to re-design the user interfaces of health-based websites in alignment with the information-seeking behaviors of healthcare consumers.
Another suggestion is to filter health-based information by reducing the number of websites providing health information (via blocking of websites with unreliable information) or creating a Google-like search engine strictly for health-based information.
Although Google has its good sides and ways it has been of help to healthcare, the search engine still happens to be one of this industry’s most significant obstacles. Healthcare professionals have to rise to these obstacles presented by Dr. Google.