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Why Medical Practices Should Consider Starting a Healthcare Blog

February 23, 2018

Your patients are online, and they’re searching for information about their symptoms. Maintaining a medical blog for your practice is an effective way to take advantage of this changing landscape of online medical knowledge and virtual physician-patient relationships.

GettyImages-171625742.jpgThe vast amount of information available online empowers patients to seek information about their conditions, investigate prescribed medications and alternative treatment methodologies, research and review their healthcare providers, and even self-diagnose. Of the more than 2 trillion Google web searches each year, more than 20 billion—approximately 1% of Google web searches—were related to medical symptoms. WebMD, and even well-known medical providers such as the Mayo Clinic, offer searchable online resources regarding patient symptoms, diseases and conditions, and typical treatments. Other sites such as Healthgrades and Zocdoc allow patients to find physicians and review medical practices and providers. A blog is an effective way to leverage this online communication and knowledge sharing trend.

The Benefits of a Medical Blog

Digital marketing experts tout the use of blogs for business growth. For instance, HubSpot, a leader in the digital marketing space, shares their top reasons businesses should use blog posts as a marketing tool, including better online visibility for brands and increased new business. Because blog posts improve a website’s ranking in search results, they can result in increased traffic to your practice’s web site and increased consumer interaction, which can, in turn, lead to increased new patient acquisition. And while online exposure to attract new business is a sound marketing strategy, a blog can also meet crucial patient communication and customer service goals for medical practices whose patient base is at or above capacity and who are not seeking new patients.

A marketing strategy to distinguish your medical practice brand and reach your patients in meaningful ways is also important because communication and access to care are among the top issues affecting patient satisfaction. In turn, studies show that higher levels of patient satisfaction are directly related to better healthcare outcomes.1 While communication and access are key issues to patient satisfaction, those concepts are broadly perceived to include everything from the practitioner’s bedside manner, perceived compassion of staff, the length of time spent in the waiting room, and the patient’s perception of having been heard. As an “always on” communication channel and source of trusted information to supplement in-person care, a blog is a good way to increase patient satisfaction, which could improve online physician ratings.

Whether your practice goals include new patient acquisition or improving satisfaction among existing patients (or both), a blog offers several benefits:

Increasing Your Practice's Brand Awareness

The increased awareness of your medical practice is an obvious benefit whether your aim is to attract new patients or not. Blog posts can boost your website’s ranking in search engine results and give your website a higher level of authority with search engines such as Google and Bing, leading to increased brand recognition and visibility for your practice and increased authority in your community.

Establishing Trust

Trust remains a constant factor for a good physician-patient relationship. Press Ganey Associates’ President and Chief Medical Officer for Strategic Consulting Dr. James Merlino says that when Press Ganey asks patients why they would recommend their physicians, the top three reasons are “confidence in their provider; teamwork from the clinicians; and whether providers and staff showed concern for their worries.”2 Merlino goes on to say that “The customer experience is fundamentally about doing the right thing and caring about the things that all of us in medicine should care about—competency, teamwork, and compassion.”

Patients are consumers who entrust their very lives and well-being to you. They want to be involved in decisions about their care and want physicians to take their personal preferences and questions seriously. With a wealth of medical knowledge online, many patients turn to the internet out of curiosity, to seek reassurance, or even to self-diagnose. Though the majority of patients have respect for their physicians and seek their help, 68% of patients will follow-up with online research in addition to talking with their healthcare providers.3 Your practice can turn this into an opportunity to be their preferred and trusted online source for information as part of a strategy of shared decision-making and communication in response to increasing online self-diagnosis.

Strengthening Existing Physician-Patient Relationships

As your medical blog provides information that directly benefits your patient population, you are also building their confidence in your practice’s expertise and ability to proactively understand their needs and connect with them. By disseminating specific information to patients, you are controlling the online conversation to some degree while reassuring them that you understand and can effectively serve their needs.

Topics for Medical Blogs

Choosing helpful and engaging blog topics is the first step toward building a better rapport with your patients through a successful blog:

Make recommendations for routine and preventative care.

Share information on seasonal issues such as influenza vaccines or on specific concerns of a segment of your patient population (preventing sports injuries for high-school athletes, for instance).

Share stories from the professional and administrative staff or patients.

By sharing personal stories about community involvement or charitable activities, you and your staff are seen as more personable, approachable and likeable, increasing their overall satisfaction with your practice. Furthermore (and with signed waivers as needed to address HIPAA guidelines), sharing stories of staff or patients overcoming medical hardships can be a great source of comfort and support to patients experiencing similar conditions or hardships.

Disseminate general follow-up instructions.

Most patients and caregivers don’t remember instructions. A study originally published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine indicated that patients immediately forgot between 40% and 80% of information their health care providers gave them, and what they did remember was often incorrect.4 This same report cited research findings demonstrating a marked increase in medical instruction retention (from 14% to 80% of the information) when graphics accompanied verbal instructions. With blog posts, your practice can disseminate common follow-up instructions and incorporate infographics, videos, or other visuals to enhance understanding and retention and improve the likelihood of patient compliance.

Provide information about new treatment options or medications.

Be your patient’s advocate as you bring new research and information to their attention.

Answer questions patients routinely ask during their visits.

If you find yourself repeatedly answering the same or similar questions, rest assured that even more patients have the same concerns. Answering those questions in blog posts shows your patients that you understand their concerns and may make them better prepared to discuss medical conditions and treatment options during their visits.

How to Use Your Blog Posts

Digital marketers suggest using blog posts to drive traffic to a website, and that goal can be accomplished in a number of ways, including sharing links to blog posts through your social media accounts or in email newsletters to patients. While most of your patients are online, many still prefer offline communications, and those who are online may not be aware of what your practice’s website offers. Consider also distributing the content you create in more traditional ways so your patients know what is available online. Distribute copies of blog posts in waiting rooms or patient rooms. Give printed copies of blog posts about certain medical conditions or specific follow-up care to patients who need printed information to take with them. For your patients who are more digitally-minded, pointing them to the blog post itself shows them that you appreciate their communications preferences and will make them more likely to proactively use the blog for information-gathering in the future.

The Challenges of Launching and Maintaining a Medical Blog

The most obvious challenges to starting a blog are time and expertise. Physicians and other staff already struggle with finding enough time to accomplish patient care and administrative functions. Adding another task to an already-overloaded work schedule is daunting despite the potential benefits. Most medical practices also lack personnel with the communications and technical skills needed for successful writing and website posting of blog articles. Hiring an outside agency or a part-time freelance writer for this purpose may be a good option, but maintaining a blog will still require time devoted to brainstorming, assigning blog topics and reviewing final drafts.

Some physicians may be legitimately wary of establishing a blog that provides medical information or recommendations. For this reason, your blog should incorporate appropriate disclaimer language. Consult with your attorney or the Risk Management team at your medical professional liability insurance carrier for recommendations.

The benefits of making better connections with patients and taking an active part in giving your patients the information they seek online are tremendous. Using a blog to bring a personal touch to a physician-patient relationship may sound paradoxical, but if technology is already driving communications between physicians and patients—and with younger patients, especially, who see online interactions as inherently beneficial—making it as personal and meaningful as possible will be more fulfilling for both you and your patients.

References

1. Black, C., Kowal, H. “Patient Satisfaction: A Key Factor In Healthcare Performance Assessment.” November 15, 2016. Altarum. (accessed 1/2/2018)

2. Solomon, M. “Customer Service In Healthcare: The Paradox Of Patient Satisfaction And Patient Experience.” May 11, 2017. Forbes. (accessed 1/2/2018)

3. Funk, C., Kennedy, B., Hefferon, M. “Vast Majority of Americans Say Benefits of Childhood Vaccines Outweigh Risks: Americans’ Health Care Behaviors and Use of Conventional and Alternative Medicine.” Pew Research Center. (accessed 1/2/2018)

4. Kessels, R. “Patients’ Memory for Medical Information.” May 2003. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. (accessed 1/2/2018)

Filed under: Digital Practice, Article, Practice Manager, Marketing & Practice Building

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