Data knows best: Game-changing learnings from tracking a patient’s customer journey from search to schedule

2 June, 2016

[Part 1 of a 3-Part Series: Success converting consumers to patients]

Before ever setting foot in a doctor’s office, patients are putting a lot of effort into finding that doctor.

According to a Think Google study, half of all patients spend over two weeks of online research before booking a doctor’s appointment, and 6 out of 10 visit multiple hospital sites in the process. Reputation, experience, location, and even branding, are all part of the evaluation. As patients ourselves, we know how complex yet important this judgment call is.

The question is: on the other end of the relationship, is there a lot of effort being expended into finding patients?

Of course there is, but the real question isn’t so much about the amount of effort, or even about finding more patients. It’s about expending the right kind of effort to find the right patients. Working smarter, not necessarily working harder, is what pays dividends in acquiring patients and ultimately, in nurturing loyal customer relationships.

Working smart means data. Data means analytics. Analytics means a soup-to-nuts online search and a self-scheduling system. Both bookends of the customer journey are necessary captures or the learnings will be scarce to nonexistent. While a great start, online search without self-scheduling is like a joke without a punchline, or better yet, a stethoscope with no earpiece. More on that later.

It all starts with the potential patient’s first impression and the online search could not only be the difference in converting that consumer to a patient, but also in teaching providers and doctors how to convert other consumers in the future.

Endless search possibilities mean endless data opportunities

Online search and self-scheduling provide massive data opportunities that can be used to continually refine positioning, which will lead to better meeting business and financial goals. The data can even teach more about who providers and doctors are, about what differentiates them from their sprawling field of competitors.

A sophisticated search and self-scheduling system tracks a customer’s journey all the way until the eventual booking. Robust search customization and filtering allow a view into exactly what patients prioritize in their decision-making process. There are many possible priorities and myriad ways those priorities can be ranked:

  • Location - At what point will a patient decide against an otherwise perfect doctor and/or provider just because they need their visit to be a couple minutes closer to home? Data knows the answer.
  • Experience - Basics like medical school attended, residency dates and locations, certifications, etc. are included. Search filtering and self-scheduling will teach which of these is a priority, or maybe more importantly, what is not a priority to a particular patient-base.
  • User ratings - In our Yelp-ified world, when do consumers not want to know if they are buying two-star or five-star products or services? Third party self-scheduling websites like have focused heavily on this piece.
  • Clinical interest - This allows doctors to strut their self-described stuff. Doctors can advertise their preferred specialties, and this information may (or may not; the data will tell) attract patients who desire a doctor who is passionate about performing a particular procedure or considers himself/herself an expert in your rare type of abdominal pain.
  • Philosophy of care - Would it be that surprising if patients actually cared about doctors who care? A mission statement goes a long way in communicating those foundational passions and values.
  • Informational materials - Doctors might benefit from opportunities to market themselves with a powerful case study or mission statement video, or a white paper exhibiting expertise. Many providers don’t currently curate these for doctors, but even when they do, it is vital to understand what role the materials are playing in converting visitors to patients.

If allowed a voice, these data patterns could potentially disrupt a provider or doctor’s way of doing business entirely, and there are more possibilities than the list here. However, even if data merely affirms current business models or marketing strategies, knowing the truth is key.

The current state of searching and scheduling health care appointments is largely stifling these learning opportunities. It’s not only because patients pick up the phone to schedule appointments, but that’s certainly a part of it.

How picking up the phone is dropping the ball

When a patient picks up the phone and schedules an appointment, it means something the provider and/or doctor was doing worked, but how to know what that thing was?

According to an Accenture study, only 2% of 2014 patients actually self-scheduled online, but we know that half of patients invest a significant amount of time researching online before scheduling. Up until the moment of booking, these patients researching online are providing providers and doctors useful data by merely searching and clicking. A patient picking up the phone is the breaking of that chain of crucial data, right at its climax. It’s the power going out just before the reveal of an Agatha Christie mystery novel, or in the last minute of game 7 of the NBA Finals.

This single piece of the scheduling process is not to solely blame for the missed opportunities most providers and doctors are experiencing; it’s a symptom of something larger. More important than the loss of that total data story is caring about what that thing that worked was, and the consumer can sense it.

Those learnings could translate into further refining the user experience. Providing potential patients with an easy-to-use, yet robust user experience, in the way that the consumer prefers, would go a long way in building trust and nurturing those loyal customer relationships.

While a strong start on the journey, even the most elegant, sleek online search system, replete with every detail a patient could desire in researching, can only serve both parties on either side of the relationship so well, if there isn’t that data-to-learning-to-refining-loop on the part of providers and doctors. Again, it’s the right kind of effort versus the amount of effort.

Consumer hunger and market trends scream inevitability, but there’s no reason to get dragged kicking and screaming

Relative to other consumer market innovations, online searches and appointment scheduling in the health care space have stubbornly remained archaic until recently. The next several years will be critical.

By the end of 2019, two out of three US health systems will offer digital self-scheduling and 64% of patients will book appointments digitally. The number of appointments that are actually booked using online self-scheduling in 2019 will dwarf the paltry 2% of appointments in 2014, skyrocketing to 38% of all appointments scheduled.

The decision facing providers and doctors over the next several years is whether they will eventually just fall in line, or choose to be a leader. Consumers will be watching and patients will be booking.

[We’ll be covering the critical user experience piece in next week’s post: Stay tuned!]