How a doctor uses Google to market and recruit patients

When I relocated my radiation oncology practice from Jacksonville to Tampa, Florida, I had to figure out how to compete against urologists in a market that was radically different from the one I had left. Unlike their peers in Jacksonville, Tampa urologists owned their own radiation centers, guaranteeing I wouldn’t receive referrals from them.

To break the referral pattern, I updated and posted my physician profile for free on an online physician directory, ratings and reputation management website. I added new biographical details, contact information and a link to my website. More importantly, I optimized the profile by including keywords such as “prostrate treatment,” “radiation therapy for prostate cancer,” “Tampa stereotactic body radiosurgery” and “prostate brachytherapy,” to earn good placement in Google searches.

I also paid the site a nominal monthly fee for a paid search listing to ensure my name appeared on the first page of their organic search results whenever Tampa residents entered certain keywords. This was important because research has shown most people don’t look beyond that page.

These online strategies have generated approximately one call a week from potential patients since August 2011. To date, eight to 10 of those individuals became patients, which meant $6,000 to $40,000 in revenue per patient.

Those results led many of my partners to create online profiles and pay for search listings. I had tried but failed to persuade them to do that before because they felt our website was enough to market ourselves online. They didn’t believe what I had proposed was worth the time and cost. But they reversed themselves after seeing how patients were self-referring to me after reading my profile and associated patient reviews.

Practically every practice has a website for marketing purposes. But that alone is not enough to attract and retain patients. Individuals now routinely go online to search for the “best doctors” in their city and learn what their patients say about their face-to-face experience with those doctors and their employees. That is a major reason I spend around two hours a week checking what is written about me in physician rating sites and asking patients to post reviews online.

I also track and monitor my online reputation to ensure the profiles and ratings prospective patients read or write about me are accurate. For example, some physician profiling and ratings by insurers could mischaracterize the quality of care I provide because the profiles are based on cost, not quality measures. If that happens, I will know and will be ready to explain to patients why I think the rating is unfair.

If a patient writes a negative review, I will respond publicly if the complaint is about my bedside manner, wait time, staff courtesy or office interior. However, I will handle any comments questioning my quality of care and competency privately to protect patient privacy and avoid getting into a public argument where everybody loses.

If you are not leveraging the many online tools to manage your reputation on the Internet and attract new business to your practice, now is the time to get onboard. Your website it no longer enough.

Jamie Cesaretti is an radiation oncologist and partner at Florida Radiation Oncology Group.

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  • civis isus

    you do “prostrate treatment”? really? I’m Prostrate OFL

  • Anonymous

    This post makes me very sad as it describes exactly what is wrong with the medical industry today.  Advertising and soliciting for prostate cancer patients – Ugghh

    • Anonymous

      Will this lead to flashing neon signs and inflatable prostates in motion on the sidewalk? There will always be some degree of competition but how do we avoid sinking to  buy-one-get-one-free, free trip to Disneyland for referrals, etc.? Something has been lost.

    • Laurie Morgan

      Wow, I don’t see it that way at all.  It didn’t sound like he did any advertising or soliciting — rather, he positioned his practice to be noticed when someone searches for the services he provides.  How is this a bad thing?  Should he be hiding?  I don’t think making your services visible is a bad thing — should you instead risk that someone who really needs what you have to offer be unable to find you?

      I also think that monitoring reviews and ratings sites for feedback is very responsible — you can learn a lot about what’s going on in the appointment setting process, billing office or reception area that you can’t see while working with patients, and the negative feedback gives you a chance to improve.  I’d love to see more practices taking this approach — too many shy away from that information instead.

  • Donald Tex Bryant

    As Dylan said, “The Times they are a changin’ “.  So true as social media becomes more important in marketing, both inside and outside of healthcare.  I certainly check to see how many visits I get on my Facebook page for my business and try to keep up active commenting each week.

    • Brooklyn Doctor

      I know there are critics to his keyword optimization, but the truth is they are the most relevant to what people will search for his kind of work.

  • Jason Boies

    Well done, Dr. Cesaretti. There’s no reason why physicians shouldn’t be paying attention to what patients are saying about them (good or bad) on social media platforms. I appreciate your mentioning private conversations and avoiding public disputes.  There’s a little too much of that in the online world where anonymity is so often abused by people looking to troll.

    Good post

    Jason Boies
    Radian6 Community Team

    • Jamie Cesaretti


  • Chatchai Yachantha

    Dear Dr. Cesaretti, 

    Your article is indeed a lesson for all of us. With the competitive market in US and around the world, what you have done is the greatest solution! Cheers for great work and thank you for sharing great article with us here. 

    Dr.Chatchai Arthur Yachantha
    International Medical Coordination Dept.

    • Jack Woo

      Most medical doctors are not Internet Marketing savvy and reluctant to explore it. Glad you are one of few who are now enjoying the fruits of being enterprising. You should take a step further by finding out how much traffic (people visiting your website) has increased and what search terms they used to reach you.
      You can then use the data to refine the keyword phrases. Targeting the right “patients” through keyword research is the key.

  • Billy Grove

    Great article Dr. Cesaretti,

    What reputation management service did you post your profile to? Sounds like it paid dividends.

  • venka

    Interesting..which social websites do you use?

  • Nonmaleficence

    I’m glad you write about this subject. As a current medical student and having been raised in a social media dense environment, I see just how important this is. Google has become the tool that the majority of the population uses to find out information on any subject that they are unfamiliar with, and medicine falls in this area. The wiser of the new era of doctors will even be maintaining blogs and other social media forms because they know that this will have a huge impact on which doctor the patient chooses to visit. I look forward to this new arena of medicine.

  • Melanie Herron

    This is great. As a medical marketing consultant in Tampa, I can appreciate the
    need to differentiate yourself in the heavily marketed region in which we live.
    A website will only work if prospective patients can find it online.

  • Sara McFarland

    Great article Dr. Cesaretti, I like that you recognized a need for change and capitalized on that. What are some of the websites and social sites you focus most on?

  • Simon Sikorski MD

    Having worked with private practices on medical marketing for 10 years now, the best way to educate physicians on why they should do marketing now is through doctors like Dr. Cesaretti. Hang in there and keep educating them. And if that doesn’t work, once your marketing kicks up their own patients will start asking about you instead :) 

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