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by Melissa Fray

A quick Google search for “digital patient outreach” returns over 20 million results. These results are filled with people claiming to have the digital marketing secrets, tips, tricks, and strategies to connect with potential and existing patients. It can be overwhelming for a GI practice or center that wants to focus on using digital strategies to enhance brand awareness. The truth is, there are simple, actionable steps you can take today to reach your patients online and see results. Continue reading for tips on maximizing digital efforts. After, you will see increased patient engagement when you need it most amidst COVID-19 decreased procedure volumes.

COVID Made Digital Marketing Even More Critical

Amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many are spending more time on their screens in a virtual world. A poll from Alcon/Ipsos of American adults found that more than half (59%) of respondents have spent more time on their mobile phones and watching television. 55% reported increased time in front of a computer screen as well. Additionally, 31% reported an increase in time spent on a tablet.

If your facility has thought about expanding your digital patient outreach efforts and never took the leap, the time is now to become more engaged online.

1. Break Through the Noise by Meeting Patients Where They Are

When looking for a starting point for your outreach efforts, look no further than where your patients already are. Chances are, they’ve already been trying to reach you across a variety of channels—so start responding.

Prioritize responding to individual messages via email or direct messages on social, i.e. Facebook Messenger. If social accounts are not yet set-up, prioritize creation of a Facebook account. Facebook is the place the largest audience of potential GI patients are; middle aged and senior citizens of all backgrounds use it more frequently than any other social media outlet.

Patients expect access to information at their fingertips—are they able to pay their bills on your website? Download the forms they need? Find instructions for their procedure preparation? Optimize your website for patient views by adding the information that they are already seeking out. Include FAQs on your website and social channels. This will also help free up time of your administrators who spend time answering questions over the phone for topics that are now predominantly displayed online.

2. Take Control of Your Online Reputation

If your facility is being talked about online, you’ll want to join the conversation – and also take control of it. If you do not yet have accounts set up for reputation management of the facility and your individual physicians. You can claim these on Google My Business, Healthgrades, and Yelp.

Once you own these listings, confirm that all the information listed about your facility is correct—address, phone number, email, website, etc. Having an outdated website or an old email address listed that no one checks is means for a frustrating patient experience. Additionally, verify that any available photos accurately depict the location or physician and update images accordingly.

Now that the information each listing displays is accurate, you can start responding to any reviews that come through the accounts. You should be able to set up notifications for any new reviews. Make your job easier by saving a template for positive reviews and negative reviews. For tips specific to managing negative reviews, you can read PE GI Solutions’ article here.

3. Post COVID-Related Updates

COVID-19 related content is most-searched, so prioritize adding this information to your Google Business listing, website, and social channels.

You should include:

  • Up-to-date hours
  • The precautions you are taking
    • i.e. required COVID testing prior to procedures, social distancing in the facility, virtual check-in instructions, temperature checks, enhanced cleaning for patient safety
  • Relevant statistics encouraging patients not to delay their care
  • Updates on following local, state, and CDC guidelines
    • Be sure to check regularly for up-to-date information. You can simply re-post the information they share with comments that you are complying. Utilize the CDC’s Communications toolkit here.

4. Stay Consistent

As you start ramping up your digital patient outreach, ask yourself or your staff, how often you realistically will be able to continue posting and responding. Consistency is key for continued patient engagement. You may not even start to see real results or be able to measure your efforts until you have kept a consistent routine.

If you considered starting additional social media accounts, verify that these will be regularly maintained before creating accounts you are unable to utilize consistently.

This can sound daunting, but even activity 1-3 times per month can boost patient engagement. And if you feel as though you don’t have enough available content to adhere to consistency in cadence, you can also use the next content marketing strategy to make consistency easier.

5. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Many think that in order to keep an active digital presence, you need to create tons of original content to share on your website and different social media channels.

The reality is that you don’t need to spend a lot of time coming up with original content. Take what you already have and spread content across all channels. You can even recycle old content with some fresh updates by relating it to current, trending events.

Don’t have anything of your own to share? Repost, retweet, share, reply, etc. to the content published by others in the industry—share your center’s part in improving colorectal cancer outcomes in response to statistics shared by the Colorectal Cancer Alliance, share your physician’s study that the American Journal of Gastroenterology published, or simply join in sharing COVID news from the CDC.

Lean on a corporate partner like PE for new content when you do need more to share. They should be able to provide you with the tools you need to keep all channels active.

6. Boost Your Targeted Posts

While there was no cost associated with tips 1-5, spending even a minimal amount to boost your Facebook posts can have impactful engagement results. If you are looking to spend anywhere, it should be Facebook.

Pay-Per-Click (PPC) Facebook Ads can be easily managed through Facebook’s Business Manager and allow for some of the most targeted advertising that exists online. Utilize this valuable targeting tool to reach your center’s target demographic in the age and geographic range you need.

Boosted posts should always include a succinct message with a call-to-action (CTA). This can direct viewers to call today, visit your website, or book an appointment. All should include a linked phone number or website URL. Best practices highly recommend using an eye-catching graphic or image on boosted posts.