At long last, digital disruption in the healthcare industry is upon us and accelerating at breakneck pace. The trend is driven by the very same drivers witnessed in other verticals: the consumer—specifically, a shift in the consumer’s demands for a retail-like experience and easy access to care. As consumers become more demanding, digital is enabling them to become active participants throughout their healthcare journey, including how they go about selecting their providers.

This “Yelpification” of healthcare means prospective patients are beginning their journey online—on search and review sites—to inform decisions on where to seek care. These trends are much like what we witnessed in the early part of this century in the digital transformations of the residential real estate and consumer travel verticals, which dramatically reshaped the landscape of winners and losers. Today, 70% of US consumers say online ratings sites have influenced their decision to select a physician, per Binary Fountain. Consumer behavior is also changing in their preference for care providers. Between 2008 and 2015, per a 2018 study published in JAMA, visits to retail clinics jumped 214%. These trends bode well for urgent care and telemedicine providers scrambling to fill consumer demand—but is the mere fact of being an urgent care or telemedicine provider sufficient to win? History tells us otherwise, and unfortunately for incumbents, the opportunities in clinical operations have not been overlooked by Silicon Valley.

In the US, digital health funding reached $1.6 billion in Q1 2018, according to Rock Health. Tech startups entering the market are applying the “Silicon Valley” approach, targeting the shortcomings of legacy providers burdened by their business models and unable to adjust quickly to changing consumer behaviors. Seizing digital opportunities has allowed agile, nimble tech startups to successfully disrupt incumbents. This changing landscape presents unique opportunities for incumbents too, but the big winners will be those that leverage digital as a strategic tool to establish themselves at the intersection of where patients meet their providers.

With that in mind, we set about understanding the current digital landscape and uncovered digital trends and insights into how urgent care and telemedicine providers are navigating the online landscape to better position their firms. Overall, we found:

  • Significant disparities in local providers’ online marketing strategies, suggesting very little in the way of competitive analysis on the part of providers
  • Even more surprisingly, we found national providers paying very little attention to what other national providers are doing online, with very small overlaps in strategy
  • Local providers in the past 12 to 24 months have added an emphasis on keyword visibility, while interest in this area among national providers waned during that time period, potentially suggesting more attractive areas for investment of digital resources
  • Google’s algorithm update in August 2018 dramatically impacted local providers, while national providers were largely able to sidestep the update, suggesting a knowledge gap on the part of local providers
  • National providers have focused substantial energy and expended significant resources on building backlink portfolios robust in both breadth and quality
  • In paid search, most advertisers have inconsistent keyword coverage, and many are not running ads optimally
  • Impression shares in paid search remain low among both national and local providers, suggesting divergent keyword strategies in paid search as well

We see compelling, significant opportunities and strategies for healthcare providers. Our research and observations are indicative of an online marketing effort that is largely oblivious to the importance of comprehensive short-term and long-term strategy development to better position organizations for growth while mitigating risks from online competitors. If your organization is stuck doing for doing’s sake, here’s a checklist of three action items that can help you achieve a course correction:

  1. Stop driving blindly. Assess the competitive online landscape thoroughly. We’re often too busy to take a step back to build a complete 360 view of the competitive landscape. Bring in outside expertise to help if you’re constrained by time or knowledge. Leverage Marketing is extremely well-versed in deep Digital Discovery, and we’ve done hundreds of analyses across dozens of verticals. If you’d like a redacted sample, send us a note from here and we’ll be happy to send one out to you. A view into competitor strategies, strengths, and weaknesses is key to your strategic planning—without it, you’re driving blind.
  2. Look inwards. Assess your own strengths and weaknesses within the online marketplace. How do you compare within the landscape and against major market participants? Why do your customers pick you today? The more realistic your assessment, the more effective your planning will be.
  3. Have a plan. Finally, with this understanding of the competitive landscape and how you are currently positioned, develop plans around mitigating the risks you’ve identified and taking advantage of opportunities for growth. Take a holistic approach that looks at all assets across your organization and how they can be aligned to support your efforts online and offline. Hard as it may be, work to develop a plan that clearly lays out the business case for expending resources against observed opportunities.

This process of digital discovery and planning is difficult and requires time and expertise. Resist the urge to put it off in favor of more immediate challenges. The further you push such planning out, the greater the challenges to overcome. Instead, done right and soon, the benefits of planning are significant to your organization and will serve all your stakeholders well, from your customers to your employees to your investors, for a long time to come.

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