MedCity Influencers

Healthcare in the age of Dr. Google: the 2014 digital patient journey

Patients are more involved in their own healthcare than ever before, and the consumption process is now as transparent as car shopping. Seventy-five percent of Americans have conducted a search related to personal health in the last year and more than a third use social media to research health conditions. Half of all patients who use the Internet to self-diagnose ultimately schedule a doctor’s appointment.

This post is sponsored by Fathom.

Ask any medical professional what has changed about patient behavior the last few years, and she is sure to talk about a physician who never was accepted to med school … the ubiquitous “Dr. Google.”

When patients start to notice something doesn’t feel quite right, they google their symptoms and make a preliminary diagnosis. In fact, 86 percent of patients conduct a health-related search before scheduling a doctor’s appointment: 90 percent of adults ages 18-24 say they would trust medical information shared by others in their social networks. Forty-one percent say social media impacts their choice of healthcare providers.

These self-diagnosers find a physician with some expertise in their condition and check Google Maps to see who is convenient to their homes or offices. They assume they will end up with a specialist, so they read the local specialist reviews on Vitals and Healthgrades. Think advertising doesn’t matter? Think again: More than 80 percent of health information-seekers will click on a relevant ad.

And the searching continues throughout treatment, with 43 percent of all visits to hospital websites coming from search engines and most patients visiting the sites of two or more hospitals during their investigations.

In the waiting room, they post iPad updates on their situations to Twitter and Facebook. Maybe they do some last-minute research; 53 percent of people say that information they found online led them to ask a doctor new questions.

After the doctor visit, they research side effects of prescribed medications. Sixty percent of patients say they research their prescriptions to understand them better—and even decide whether to fill them. They subscribe to a blog on the topic of their condition.

They set up accounts in the physician’s EHR. Then they change social-network profile icons to show support for a cure.

And don’t think “Dr. Google” is only about reaching young patients:

  • 67 percent of seniors say that access to their health information is important;
  • 70 percent say they want to be able to request prescription refills electronically;
  • 67 percent want to make online appointments;
  • 58 percent want to email their healthcare providers;
  • and 15 percent want to use a mobile device to manage appointments.

Welcome to the digital patient journey.

The fact is patients are more involved in their own healthcare than ever before, and the consumption process is now as transparent as car shopping. Seventy-five percent of Americans have conducted a search related to personal health in the last year and more than a third use social media to research health conditions. Half of all patients who use the Internet to self-diagnose ultimately schedule a doctor’s appointment.

What about the doctors?

Seventy-eight percent of US doctors are using digital tools to gather research; 70 percent prefer online training to classroom training; and nearly 40 percent communicate with patients online.  This is the future of healthcare.

Today’s patients are educated, empowered and active. The marketers’ role is to meet them halfway, ensure access to quality information, and use the new tools to improve the access to and quality of healthcare.

Learn more about healthcare marketing in the age of “Dr. Google.”

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