Five ways hospitals can boost online engagement

By Molly Merrill
09:43 AM

"Hospitals are missing their opportunity" to boost patient engagement online, says one expert, who notes that a successful Web project requires a hybrid of marketing expertise and technology.

Richard Brown is a Healthcare Solutions consultant for Nashua, N.H.-based Ektron, a Web solutions provider. He shared with Healthcare IT News five ways healthcare organizations can boost online engagement.

Creating good design. Brown says this first step is the most important. Hospitals should be focusing on who the users of their website site will be – physicians and patients. He says it is important for them to know who their target audience is and what their behaviors are. It is also important that the user doesn't feel that they are being "advertised at," he added. The user comes to the website to find information, and the design should allow him or her to do this easily. "We are believers of being minimalistic," he says. "The design and content should be simplistic."

Focusing on high margin service lines. Brown says that, of all the services hospitals offer their patients, only about five to seven of them actually make money. Keeping this in mind, the hospital's website should focus on these services and then provide "deep, rich immersive experiences" for those procedures online. If a patient has a good experience online, he says, "it is likely that the hospital will get their business." Bariatric surgery is one such high margin service, for instance. Hospitals can provide on their websites information and video that tell patients anything they want to know about the procedure. Hospitals can then measure how many patients who view the video go on to have the surgery.

Making a claim in social spaces. When it comes to using social media, Brown recommends sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook and foursquare. If a hospital has an account with these types of networks, they're crowdsourcing. "The goal," says Brown "is to take the crowd back to your website." He doesn't necessarily recommend Twitter for doing this, because the goal is more to maintain the reputation of the website, rather than driving patients back to the site.

Giving the consumer a voice. Hospitals have two choices: "They can manage the conversation or ignore it," says Brown. Managing it gives the hospital an opportunity to come in with world-class customer service, he says. A couple of sites he recommends are PatientsLikeMe and CaringBridge. Those allow patients "who are passionate about their condition" to congregate and build communities, he adds. The hospital can also give patients a voice through a blog. But he says the blog should also serve to provide patients with expertise on a certain condition.

Metering, measure and iterating.
"Hospitals need to show return on investment, and the Web gives you that chance," says Brown. If a hospital can measure whether it is "generating revenue, creating operational efficiencies, endearing loyalty or ensuring satisfaction" then it can show the website is effective, says Brown. If a hospital can demonstrate ROI on two or three service lines they can show what they're doing on the Web is worth it, he says. He also adds that if a hospital isn't measuring then all the other steps are not worth it.