Search doubles as health narrative, Google finds

Share this article:

The data surrounding the importance of mobile continues to pile up. Marketing research firm USamp, for example, found that 12% of the women polled shop while killing time in a doctor's waiting room and that 25% of men dabble in mobile shopping during the 9-to-5 hours.

Google's September ThinkHealth conference provided even more insight about what patients and physicians are looking for, and ignoring, in the webified healthcare space. The quick takeaway, according to Brian Schmidt, Google's director of healthcare services: mobile and search are the keys to getting information across. Although the typical user profile separates consumers and providers (and will be done below), when talking with Schmidt it becomes clear that the two halves are becoming part of an overarching search narrative in which patients and physicians are using the web with information that links up at the middle, and sometimes overlaps, as when a physician pulls up a video to show a patient during a consultation.

“Mobile growth has exploded,” Schmidt told MM&M, noting that although the healthcare space once got away with thinking mobile search was “more about ‘Hey, I guess people might search for their local pizza shop,'” that no longer works. Google's data shows that mobile search is being used more comprehensively than before.

Among Google's findings: 61% of patients visited more than two hospital sites before booking an appointment, 77% of the patients polled relied on search results before booking appointments, 21% of patients book using computers or mobile devices and, what may further pique marketer interest: patients typically begin searches with general terms and close out with branded ones. For example, Google found that although only 10% used branded terms as their starting point, 48% ended their search using branded terms. Google also found that although desktops and laptops currently dominate the search and booking paths, the end result overlaps with use on other devices -- one-third of patients use tablet or mobile search every day for research or to book appointments.

Doctors are also digging deep -- 69% of docs told Google that they rely on search engines when looking for information when using smart phones, but 74% rely on search engines when hunting around for information on their tablets. Google also found physicians heavily favor online resources – using professional websites, drug references, apps, for example—twice as much as printed journals and reference materials.

“If you look at our search data, the complexity of search terms continues to increase and so whereas somebody used to search, you know, ‘heart attack,' now they're searching for a very specific heart disease . . . [and] the opportunity to have a deeper conversation with customers exists and you can really react to what somebody is searching for,” Schmidt told MM&M.

Richness takes on a variety of forms, including video, which is popular with patients and professionals. Schmidt says the visuals “give an opportunity to explain things that are complex,” along with an undercurrent of personalization that makes web results less about the wider world, and more about the patient.

The ability to span both realms is something TV and print cannot achieve to the same degree. On reason is that the online narrative offers a flexibility that enables what Schmidt says is the right conversation at the right time. His example: a patient strolling the aisles wants a different conversation than a patient who's just been given a diagnosis and is searching for information during an appointment or while on the way out the door.

At a more leisurely moment, this same medium can go wide, and be individualized with videos and greater context, as opposed to, say, a quick rundown of benefits and side effects which may be more pressing when contemplating a prescription at the pharmacy counter.

“Being able to explain or show ‘Hey, this is what this treatment looks like, this is what these side effects look like ... that becomes extremely powerful, and you can personalize that in a way online that is hard to do on television or in a magazine or in a television ad,” Schmidt said.

Despite the data, Schmidt said marketers continue to inch towards mobile thinking. He said it's not because healthcare marketers are not aware that doctors and patients are ready and waiting, but that “a lot of the time we get ‘Yup, we get it, but our priority #1 is 'blank'.” Schmidt said that the urgency is there, since Google's findings show that visitors tend not to return to sites that aren't optimized for the mobile experience. He said it's also a missed opportunity to flex the platform's muscle, be it raising awareness and tracking impressions and visit frequency, or having a more direct call to action, such as an click-to-call mobile ad that helps patients immediately book and appointment.

“The beauty of the platform is that it gives the marketer the tools to accomplish either of these goals.”

This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed in any form without prior authorization. Your use of this website constitutes acceptance of Haymarket Media's Privacy Policy and Terms & Conditions