You don’t need us to tell you that the face of healthcare in the United States is going through some major changes. Politically, technologically, and culturally, the landscape is shifting, and while it’s creating new opportunities there are plenty of challenges riding alongside.
Facing those challenges and taking advantage of those opportunities requires orthopedic practices like yours to shift with the landscape, and to do that you need to know exactly how the landscape is shifting. An article in the Wall Street Journal laid out some of the more sweeping yet more subtle changes being wrought by the perfect storm of legislation and the spread of digital information technologies, and we thought we’d share some insights on how to use those changes to your advantage.
How the ACA Caused a Fundamental Shift in the Patient Mindset
We’re not going to debate the merits (or detriments) of the Affordable Care Act, nor are we going to project what happens with the law and/or other healthcare legislation after the upcoming elections. Regardless of what happens, the ACA has done at least one thing that can’t be easily undone, even if we had a Congress that could agree on…well, anything: it got people to take a more active role in planning their healthcare.
Millions more Americans now have insurance—even by the most conservative estimates, more than 5% of the US population that was previously uninsured now has health insurance—and all else being equal that’s a good thing. Many of those millions signed up for health insurance for the first time ever, and millions more either chose or were forced to spend extra time shopping for insurance due to changes with employer plans and the new exchange/marketplace health insurance options.
The result is that most of America began looking at their healthcare—from their insurance providers to their primary care physicians to specialists like orthopedic surgeons—a lot closer than they had before. Where as many as 70% of patients may have once relied on a referral from their insurer to see a specialist, or have simply gone with the first in-network surgeon recommended by their physician, today’s patients are much more acutely aware of the fact that they have options, and they are willing to devote a lot of time to finding the best.
And technology gives them the tools to do it.
The Internet is Driving Consumer Healthcare
As patients have been seeking more information about their orthopedic surgeons and other healthcare providers, the Internet and related technologies have—somewhat though not altogether coincidentally—been there to assist them in their search. Not only can the name of any surgeon or surgical practice be typed into Google to drag up reviews and other information, but mobile devices like smartphones have made it incredibly convenient to research an orthopedic surgeon or other healthcare provider in an instant.
Just as patients’ desire for provider information is growing, the barriers to accessing that information are shrinking.
Take a look at the trend in searches performed on Google for the keyword string “orthopedic surgeon.” The search volume has just about doubled in the past five years as patients take a more active role in finding and vetting all manner of medical specialists:
We’re still in the upward trend, too—the number of patients using Google to seek out surgeons for themselves is still growing.
Patients expect to be able to get to know their healthcare providers long before they’re sitting down for an office visit or a pre-surgery interview. They want to know about your education and training, your background, your track record, what other patients have to say about you, and anything else they can find. And if they can’t find it, they aren’t too likely to choose you as their surgeon.
That’s where the challenge of changing patient expectations becomes an opportunity for Internet-savvy surgical practices.
How Your Orthopedic Surgery Practice Can Take Advantage of the Changing Times
Whenever there’s change, especially the rapid, multi-faceted types of change we’re seeing in the healthcare market here in the United States, most businesses get left behind. They don’t take note of which way the breeze is blowing until it’s already swept through, and while most will be able to successfully rebuild in its wake they miss out on the potential windfalls of a faster evolution.
A few prescient professionals, meanwhile, can turn expert predictions and early measures of current trends into thriving practices that capture greater market share. By taking concrete action in the face of shifting sands, they can build better and stronger businesses designed for the modern market.
The same principles apply to your orthopedic surgery practice in the modern era of legislative and technological change. You can wait for this “relationship revolution” to be over, then figure out a way to get along in the new order, or you can be a part of the first wave and secure yourself a place at the top once everything has settled.
We recommend the latter.
If you’re reading this, we’ll assume you already have a website and maybe some other digital marketing efforts in the works. That’s great, but ask yourself: does your website provide all of the information your orthopedic patients are searching for? Are you answering all of their questions, or are you giving them a reason to leave your site and keeping digging for more information elsewhere? The more comprehensive your site is, the better it will be at capturing new patients rather than being a quick stop in their search for an orthopedic surgeon.
Similarly, you need to take steps to ensure that your orthopedic practice’s site comes up first when patients search you by name, and when patients local to your area use more general search terms to find an orthopedic surgeon. From basic SEO to the more complex and ongoing efforts of keyworded content, backlinks, and more, you need to be investing resources into staying on top of the search results. If you’re not, then others are controlling the information your patients are reading—about you, and about their orthopedic surgery options in your area.
More than half of US adults were using the Internet to find healthcare and provider information as far back as 2013, and those three years are an eternity in the world of digital marketing. If you haven’t been keeping up, it’s time to catch up: give your patients the information, and the relationship, they’ve come to expect from their healthcare providers. Take control of your online presence, and use both quality and quantity to boost your reputation and your reach. You’ll start seeing rewards from these early efforts within months, frequently, and those rewards will grow exponentially in the coming years.
Don’t let your orthopedic practice be left behind. Stay on top of these massive healthcare developments, and get on top of your patient’s lists.
And you can always contact us if you need a hand.