Connecting With Patients, Search by Search

Aalap ShahIn today’s health-care landscape, how can you expand your volume in the face of falling reimbursements, competition from larger health-care systems, and increasingly complex regulations? How do practiceas, imaging centers, and radiology departments increase revenue and margins—and address the challenges of patients’ tight budgets? One powerful way is the use of a pay-per-click tool (such as Google AdWords or Bing Ads), which can drive patients’ behavior and increase margins and volume. Pay-per-click advertising can translate into increased revenue because ads can be configured to be displayed within selected geographic zones, at predefined times, and in conjunction with narrow or broad search terms. Prices for keywords (search terms that patients use to find your business) depend on their popularity and market size; they can range from a few cents to several dollars. Clicks typically cost an average of a dollar or less, but this is contingent on your local competition, how your search campaigns are structured, and how relevant the landing page is to the search term on which you are bidding. Why use paid-search methods to drive Web traffic? Are those patients truly searching for you? According to a 2009 study,1 86% of patients research health-care choices using the Internet, and 81% have clicked on sponsored links. It’s even more important that 20% of health consumers search for health-related information on their mobile devices. With growing reliance on mobile computing and smartphones, pay-per-click advertising is an opportunity to influence patients as they search for nearby imaging centers. While your patients might continue to be referred to specific imaging facilities (or provided with a list of facilities) by their physicians, you now have the ability to disrupt this cycle via sponsored ads and search tactics. How is this possible? The hypothetical patient, upon receiving a referral for imaging, would typically search for this information prior to scheduling an appointment: Is the facility in my insurance network? How far is it from home or work? What types of reviews has this facility received? Will I be able to schedule a convenient appointment? Through paid-search methods, a facility has the opportunity to interject itself into the sales cycle, capture prospective patients, and redirect them. Building the Campaign Pay-per-click advertising works in three key ways. First, you may bid for targeted keywords that describe your business, such as open MRI, CT scan, or Chicago. Second, you may bid or place an ad on blogs and content networks that your target consumer might read often, such as a hometown newspaper’s website or a popular local blog. Third, pay-per-click advertising with phone links allows patients searching for the nearest imaging center using their mobile devices to call you with just one click. Once you set up a pay-per-click account, you can buy targeted ads by location, keywords, and other criteria. The key opportunity is to create specific campaigns built around themes. For example, one theme might be self-pay rates and might include keywords such as low-cost MRI, low-cost imaging, cash rates for MRI, cheap MRI, and related phrases. A campaign built on these keywords would then drive traffic to a specific page on your website that would discuss your self-pay options and invite the patient to call. An alternative approach is to display your ad when patients are looking for your competitors. For example, you can build an ad group that will ensure that your ad will show either above the natural search results and/or on smartphone map apps every time a prospective patient searches for a direct competitor. While there are many types of search campaigns with a multitude of options, other factors to consider are your budget and the amount of time/resources you can dedicate to managing this tool. Any pay-per-click tool requires time and effort to manage. Not only are you selecting keywords and creating ad copy, but you are also creating related landing pages and specific calls to action. Another consideration is the time it takes to analyze each campaign to see whether pay-per-click advertising is driving traffic to your practice. Many imaging centers choose to assign their business accounts to an internal marketing manager or outsource the work to an outside pay-per-click specialist. Though pay-per-click campaigns require dedicated time and effort, results are compelling. The sheer number of impressions and traffic that a pay-per-click campaign can drive to your business, if targeted effectively and managed daily, is astonishing. An Imaging-center Example A medium-sized imaging center offering MRI, CT, ultrasound, and radiography service in the Midwestern United States used pay-per-click advertising to increase its patient base by more than 150%. On average, for a $1,000 monthly investment, this center is able to generate 30 new-patient referrals. The campaign targets only selected zip codes, including a nearby city within a 30-minute driving time. It bids on selected keywords, including imaging center, diagnostic facility, open MRI, CT scan, and same-day MRI appointments, among others. It creates specific landing pages to drive specific actions (call today for an appointment, for example), and its ad copy uses compelling headlines that include the phrases same-day appointments, low self-pay rates, and comfortable open MRI. Over a period of six months, this MRI center was able to increase its patient base. It also created opportunities to market itself to new physicians who normally would not have considered sending referrals to this center. Of course, pay-per-click advertising is only one of several tools in your marketing arsenal. While it’s a powerful tactic to drive targeted traffic to your imaging center (and it can capture the attention of prospective patients), remember that it coexists in context with your online brand. Before you ramp up your paid-search efforts, consider the types of content that can be optimized on your website to make those campaigns more efficient. Increase your presence on other social-media platforms, and consider writing a weekly blog entry. Once you have established valuable content for your targeted patients to view, you’ll not only begin to rank higher in search results, but your paid traffic will cost you less (as pay-per-click vendors can correlate the search terms you are bidding on with content on your website). Patients no longer have to rely solely on a physician’s referral to find their way to an imaging center. With the power of paid-search methods, in combination with other online tactics and strategies, you can drive traffic to your imaging center within your geographic targets—and with a monthly budget that you control. In the face of increasingly complex health-care regulations, the dwindling numbers of independent physicians as referral sources, and the increasing importance of cost to patients, pay-per-click advertising is one avenue to the patient that is within your control. While it requires daily maintenance and continuous analysis, it is a powerful method of acquiring new patients, changing prospective patients’ behavior, and creating awareness of your center in a targeted market. Moreover, it’s one tool that can be used effectively to drive your imaging volume and revenues. Aalap Shah is a social-media marketing consultant;