Digital Wayfinding: How SEO Impacts Patient Outcomes

How does SEO actively impact patient outcomes? The answer comes down to the relationship between locating a practice website and using the tools.

December 13, 2017
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When doctors talk about healthcare outcomes, they generally focus on issues such as medication compliance, attendance at follow-up appointments, and access to treatment more broadly. Rarely, though, do healthcare professionals examine the impact that their web design has on patient health. Looked at from the angle of communication, however, factors like SEO actually play a key role in patient health.

If you’re wondering how you can boost your practice’s performance and improve patient health, you need to check your Google rankings. Can your patients locate your practice online in order to seek follow-up care?

Why Healthcare SEO Matters

SEO is a key determinant of business performance across fields; no matter what the search terms, users rarely make it past the first or second page of Google results. The difference in healthcare communications, though, is that when patients can’t find you in a Google search, they may not get the care they need.

In order to improve your practice’s SEO, there are a few key factors you should focus on. First, content quality is vital. By developing health-focused blog posts and sharing reference materials, you give patients a way in. In fact, according to a study by SearchMetrics, 53% of top 20 query results include keywords in their titles. Offer patients plenty of keywords to latch onto; they may not remember a physicians name, but they likely know what they treat, where they’re located, and other key information.

Great website content can also help build your practice’s reputation as knowledgeable and on the cutting edge of healthcare. The famed Cleveland Clinic only treats a small number of patients each year when viewed within a national context. By running a powerful, data-driven blog, though, the Cleveland Clinic draws tens of millions of visits each year and helps set the hospital apart from the competition using both volume and authority.

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Meta tags also play an important role in SEO rankings. These tags, which identify key site themes, may not be readily apparent to users but they do factor into the SEO algorithms on many sites. Meta tags may go back to the early days of search engines, but they’re still relevant.

Healthcare practices need to place a greater emphasis on SEO in the design process because it can help differentiate local service providers. “In my experience,” says Shmuel Aber of The Saber Team, “healthcare providers don’t view themselves as in competition with each other, leading them to under-emphasize SEO during design consultations.” Without refined search features, then, all local practices start to blend together and patients find themselves on a wild goose chase.

Offerings, Outcomes, And Onsite Content

Beyond allowing clients to locate your website, how does SEO actively impact patient outcomes? The answer comes down to the relationship between locating a practice website and using the tools available on it.

Patient portals are among the most important tools on healthcare websites today. Patients can use them to refill prescriptions, make appointments, and contact doctors directly with questions. Harvard’s Outcome platform, for example, is used in over 41,000 practices across the country to coordinate care, while MyChart by Epic offers similar services with significant interoperability benefits. When patients can’t find your website, though, they can’t use these tools.

Continued access portal tools like Outcome and MyChart can help patients get necessary preventative care, while other tools like Johnson & Johnson’s CareAdvantage program offers surgical follow-up, among other service add-ons. These new tools are meant to simplify scheduling, but while they’re independently operated, practices still link to them through their websites. With thousands of practices using these programs, though, it can be hard to find the right one unless users can navigate to their practice’s care page. Strong SEO can get them there.

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Communicating with your patients should be a top priority, but communication isn’t always direct. Rather, it hinges on broader systems: on search engines, advertisements, and digital media. Building a practice – and a website – isn’t enough. You need to focus on SEO best practices to create a connection and keep it strong.