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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