Connecting with potential patients through new technologies and communication channels is good for the health of your practice. Though the means of communication may be ever-evolving, what’s going on behind the communication isn’t—and can be linked to biology.
In evolutionary biology, signaling theory examines communication between individuals. The idea was adapted in psychology to explore the role of nonverbal signals (such as body language and pheromones) in interactions.
Typically we think of such signals as occurring in-person. But we’re increasingly turning to the web for signals.
77% of online health seekers said that they began their last session at a search engine, according to a 2013 Pew Research study. As social networks such as Facebook increase their search functionality this year, they’ll become more and more common jumping-off points for those seeking medical information.
What messages are you sending when a patient’s first encounter with your practice is online?
Imagine a prospective patient’s first online encounter—say, through Facebook search. When prospective patients find your practice, they’ll ideally encounter all the positive reviews and peer referrals you’ve collected (or are about to start collecting). They’ll see welcoming images, clear information, and easy ways to schedule appointments.
Herd Behavior (Affects Nearly Everyone )
Emergence theory—more specifically herd behavior—centers on the complex ways that herds dictate collective decision making—without any formal design. It’s observed in migratory patterns, and defense against predators.
Humans are no strangers to herd behavior. According to a University of Leeds study, the movement of only 5% of a crowd can influence the crowd’s direction as a whole.
Herd behavior doesn’t disappear online. As in “real life,” we’re swayed by the actions—subtle and overt—of others, and of the group as a whole. The first peer-reviewed medical journal coverage on this phenomenon appeared in JAMA in 2014. Of the quarter of patients who reported using online reviews when selecting a doctor, 35% selected a doctor because of a good online rating, while 37% avoided doctors with poor ratings.
The study also found that respondents took into account the group’s aggregate opinion of providers as much as they did individual reviews. 80% said they were seeking providers with an average rating of at least four out of five stars.
Respondents also valued more recent information from the herd more highly. 75% saw reviews over 12 months old as less credible than more current reviews.
Patient reviews matter, individually and in the aggregate. They should be positive, current, and easy for prospective patients to find and evaluate.
The Most Adaptable (Not the Strongest) Survives.
In evolution, natural selection describes how variations in heritable traits affect the survival of populations over time. It’s a popular metaphor in capitalism, where we see how businesses change and succeed through principles of variation, selection, and replication.
Let’s consider demand—a basic success indicator—as we think about how your practice can evolve and prosper in a Web 3.0 world.
Practices that want to thrive need to adapt to the demands of prospective patients. Being accommodating to prospective patients’ schedules by offering tools that make it as easy as possible to schedule an appointment—using tools they prefer—will attract customers.
A recent Accenture survey found that 77% of patients want to be able to “self-schedule” medical appointments online. Already, 38% of all medical appointments are booked after hours; most through digital channels. The Accenture team predicts that by 2019, 64% of patients will schedule appointments digitally, and 80% of appointment volume will be self-scheduled.
Successful interaction with potential patients, through any kind of technology, means foregrounding their needs, and being mindful of your online presence (how you appear, and how others perceive or rate you).