Today, hospitals have a myriad of online channels they can use to market their services, but still no tool is more efficient or cost effective to reach customers (old and new) than their website.
Obvious statement? Maybe.
Intermedika has worked with hospitals around the world and it never fails to surprise us how few hospitals use their websites to their maximum potential. More often than not, we see hospitals skimping on their web platforms using off-the-shelf web designs and stock photos to build a minimally viable product that is ‘just good enough’.
On the whole, we believe hospitals struggle maximizing their digital channels in large part because there is a disconnect between the online user, the marketing manager and the hospital leadership. Let me explain.
The users of the site (customers) want ease of use and good functionality. The best hospital websites have deep information about doctors, services, programs; a real-time booking system to make appointments; and a system that sends regular updates and reminders to help patients stay current. The better the site, the more customers use it. It’s a virtuous cycle.
The manager of the site (usually the marketing department) is tasked to find a qualified but economical vendor to build and manage the site. As it often the case, bids are requested, proposals are vetted and a vendor is selected with the expectation that in 3-6 months the hospital will have a shiny new website. That never happens. Ever.
Why is building something so fundamental to the business so hard to do? We see several reasons.
One, hospitals view the website as a minimal requirement to list their doctors and services rather than a tool for patient acquisition and retention. In a word, they simply underestimate the power of their website and how much value it generates for business and the customer. That is a clear missed opportunity.
Two, hospitals see their website as a ‘marketing thing’ rather than a ‘customer thing’. Hospitals talk about being patient centric when it comes to clinical services, but not customer centric when it comes to the website. A good customer centric website is ‘sticky’ – a term digital marketers use to measure time on site and repeat usage — and stickiness is a byproduct of good content, good features and good design. It’s a continuous process that takes time and money to get right. It’s a binary choice — you see it as an investment or a cost.
Three, and most importantly, hospitals typically use external vendors that don’t understand the business to build their websites. Web development companies build sites based on a customer brief that details key requirements, features, look and feel. Developing a proper brief takes time and expertise, and it should incorporate current as well as future needs. If the organization does not have the resources or commit the time to the process, they inevitably build a backward rather than forward looking website.
Here’s an easy way to test that last point. Does your hospital get more appointment requests from patients calling in or logging in? If the majority of your doctor appointments come from your call center or customer service rather than your website (or mobile app), then you are behind the curve.
The importance of online marketing and customer engagement will only grow with time, and COVID has both exposed and reinforced our reliance on digital tech to do everything — schooling, shopping, banking and now doctoring. The choice hospitalists face is clear: either underspend on a tool of the future or overspend on tools of the past.