Digital Marketing and Doctors – How the internet can help expand medical practice?

We are in big digital bubble. In this bubble, we are connected via the herculean and ever-expansive internet. It can be said to be a paradise where we are provided innumerable choices of any services/products which we enjoy from the comfort of our homes. Gone are the days when we had to step out of our houses even for the smallest of activities. Business, and personal relationships have been redefined in this era of social media and marketing. The possibilities have become endless.

Just like individuals, businesses have also realized the potential of digitized marketing processes and its ability to cut across geographical boundaries and connect with people relevant to their market. Social media giants like Facebook have leveraged digital marketing on a gigantic scale which has made them one of the biggest promotional platforms for eminent brands. The healthcare industry, especially practicing doctors are effectively using digital marketing to cater to an audience who via social media and hundreds of other digital channels have become more interconnected (with other people who are of the same audience category), informed, and have innumerable options from where they can choose to get their medical care.

According to a 2016 survey conducted by Software Advice, a company which features objective researches and studies by industry experts, approximately 54% of potential patients do an online search for local doctors/physicians on a weekly and monthly time frame. The survey also said that the statistic would increase by 2020.

We have to understand that marketing, in general, has shifted from the conventional 4Ps theory (Product, Place, Price, and Promotion) to a 4Cs model (Culture, Creating, Curating, and Connecting). In a digital culture, the target audience, or in the case of doctors, probable patients, are logging into the vast information space of the internet to extensively search and review before making a choice. Therefore, it is vital for doctors to create an online presence which can attract potential patients. The digital sphere is immensely flexible, unlike its offline counterparts where doctors have to promote their practice in a “one-size-fits-all” marketing approach, a process which often misses out on a large chunk of target audiences.

Here doctors can not only promote their core practice but can build an online persona by formulating personalized content for a targeted group. The content can be in the form of blogs/articles (health tips, home medical care procedures, articles related to the doctor’s specialty practice), videos of medical procedures, their clinic, and its facilities, interviews and speeches, infographics, etc.

Medikabazaar as a part of its digital marketing strategy conducted interviews with distinguished doctors and published their personal stories online which was shared by the interviewees themselves and received a significant amount of responses and reactions from the social media sphere. Through this we realized that if a content has a high degree of personalization, the more likely it is to get shared and garner greater reach. Medikabazaar via their digital marketing channels fosters the culture of knowledge sharing in a bid to increase awareness about new products in the healthcare industry. This way, we also give a digital platform for our partner vendors where we introduce their products on numerous online channels and in turn increase their reach.

In traditional marketing, the service provider is unable to know whether the promotion is reaching to the right audience or not. In digital marketing, the provider gets the data of how many people engaged with each and every post on the page. This in turn allows doctors to understand the online behavior the probable patients, better.

Dr. Harish Shetty, a psychiatrist at Dr. L.H. Hiranandani, Mumbai, extensively uses social media for his practice. “I post blogs and videos which help me to create awareness,” says Dr. Shetty.

“Social media has the power of escalation to infinity. I can get in touch and respond to patients immediately, and through online support groups, people with depression, schizophrenia, and other mental problems can help each other get better,” he added.

Regarding bettering his practice, Dr. Shetty said that through an online presence he could “connect with other practitioners and improve his knowledge.”

One of the most significant aspects of digital marketing is that it allows businesses to engage with its customers on online platforms directly. We have to remember that the one thing which the digital consumer isn’t, is being quiet. They have become vocal about their preferences, criticisms, and praises. A couple of positive comments on the social media page of a company can catapult its business to unforeseen heights while negative reviews can shoot it down to lows from where they might not recover.

Dr. Rohan Virani of TRISA Dental Solutions, Mumbai gave quite a vivid description of digital marketing and medical practice. Although he did signify the importance of digital marketing but implied that word-of-mouth reviews by patients still help in 50% growth of the practice. He attributed 40% growth to digital marketing.

Dr. Virani added that social media is a platform where people can give “unrestricted criticism.” Interestingly, he had a somewhat positive take regarding negative comments on social media profiles.

Dr. Virani said, “Negative comments along with positive ones shows that the page is genuine.”

“If all comments are positive then there are chances that the page might be fake,” he added.

Dr. Virani’s clinic is active on Facebook with regards to promotions. At the end of the interview, he said that doctors should dedicate “20% of their income towards digital marketing.”

Doctors who have adopted the digital approach must engage with their followers. If there are negative reviews about their practice, then they should address it immediately by interacting directly with the concerned party. Reviews and comments on digital platforms will also provide doctors’ with ideas about how they are conducting their practice, where they need to improve and if there are any changes required in their current practice. This is a lot more effective than traditional marketing which is one-sided and offers little or nil interaction between the customer and the service provider. Reports have shown that doctors can get a 59% increase in conversions, 49% increased loyalty from patients, 73% improvement in patient experience, and 52% increase in chances of retaining a patient.

Digital marketing is also a cost-effective method for promotion. This aspect is especially important for doctors who run small practices and have budget constraints when it comes to marketing. In traditional marketing (television, newspapers, and hoardings) only doctors with a significant marketing budget can afford to maximize their promotions. Digital marketing provides both parties with equal opportunities to connect with their distinct target groups thus leveling the playing field.

India has seen a momentous growth in the digital field in recent years. With more than 432 million internet users (IAMAI IMRB Report) and a growing number of users from rural areas, the country is on its way towards becoming a digital nation in the near future. According to a 2018 news report, an average Indian spends approximately 4.4 hours a day on the internet. The report also says that 42% of the companies operating in India are looking towards social media as their primary and central marketing platform. Doctors practicing in India must be aware of such decisive numbers and adopt a digital marketing process to further their practice.

People in tier 2, 3 cities and rural areas don’t always get their desired medical diagnosis/treatment due to their geographical location. Couple this with the fact that there is a severe shortage of doctors as compared to the number of patients, it is critical that they take a digital approach and reach across to the patients in remote locations and provide quality patient care. This will make healthcare more accessible across the country which is the need of the hour.

The digital revolution which everyone was talking about in the 1990s has already happened. The healthcare industry is also seeing technological advancements as mechanisms like Artificial Intelligence, Augmented Reality, and Robotics are gradually taking shape. Doctors need to take a similar step towards expanding and marketing their practice via digital channels so that they can create awareness among the people of a changing industry dynamic and ultimately provide efficient and value-based healthcare to their patients.

The article was published in the May 2019 edition of Medgate today Magazine

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