Over the past decade, hospitals have doubled the amount they spend on marketing and communications. A massive population of aging baby-boomers along with a significant healthcare reform designed to create millions of newly insured patients, has fueled much of this growth.
In 2009, hospital marketing budgets ranged from an average of $1.3 million for independent hospitals to $5.8 million for large health systems, according to a survey by the Society for Healthcare Strategy and Market Development (SHSMD). That’s less than one percent of the average hospital budget and may well also include money spent on free screenings at health fairs and the publication of hospital magazines such as patient guides. 
With so many significant changes to healthcare, insurance, along with access to data, it has become imperative that hospitals bolster a network of influence within their individual communities to remain relevant and for their own sustainability. A key component to accomplishing this is for a facility to be found and correlated with a specific physician as early as possible in the information gathering process. The sooner and easier a prospective patient can find you and the information resources they need, the greater the chance your hospital and physicians will be selected.
“Physicians drive health care, period,” says Travis Singleton, a senior vice president at Merritt Hawkins, a physician placement firm. “Ninety percent of the health care dollars that are spent in today’s marketplace are through the physician’s pen, whether that’s patients they admit, whether that’s tests they administer, whether that’s procedures they order, whether that’s insurance they bill.” 
When patients need advice on where to receive treatment, they ultimately look to their physicians for advice.
According to the HSC 2007 Health Tracking Household Survey, the greatest information source for patients seeking a primary care physician are “friends or relatives” at 50.3% with “doctor or other healthcare provider” being the second greatest response at 38.1%.
Once a primary care physician is selected, that doctor becomes the source for specialty referrals 68.5% of the time, followed by “friends or relatives” at 19.9%. From there, the physician performing the procedure dictates the selection of the hospital in which the procedure will take place 73.9% of the time. Books, magazines, newspapers, TV and radio were ranked last in all survey results. 
With over 80% of Americans using the Internet to search for general healthcare information, it would be fair to say that the majority of patients, after getting a referral from friends or relatives, would go online to research the physician. Therein lies the opportunity to gain awareness for a hospital earlier in the decision-making process.
Leveraging both paid and organic search engine optimization can drastically increase the traffic to your hospital’s website. Knowing that patients are looking for physicians in the early stages of deciding to have a procedure performed, it makes sense to align a hospital facility with the physicians and specialists that will be guiding the patients’ care.
It’s a simple concept of success by association. People are attracted and make connections with people. People like your physicians. It is your physicians and specialists that truly make the difference and they are the cornerstones to impacting your bottom line. By using your hospital’s web presence to support the physicians in your community, you are keeping business in the local economy and benefiting from the aggregate result. Beyond just bringing in patients at a surface level, think of the wider ramifications of this local commitment. Proactive physician search strategies can also positivity affect physician referrals to your hospital and practices, increase physician retention, and give you another tool for physician recruitment.
The way to achieve this is to factor in a dynamic, physician information section on your hospital’s website – mobile optimized, keyword rich, and with a system for creating relevant, updated content that will keep the search engines attention and improve your overall search rankings. At the point of need, it is critical that your hospital and physicians are found and found first.
By doing this, you effectively move the hospital up the decision-making chain and build awareness when the patient is most actively gathering information. It also provides a strategy for keeping patients local instead of losing them to larger institutions. This is an important step to enhancing your overall brand in the eyes of the community.
Not only will this help keep you top of mind with patients and their physicians as they decide a course of treatment, but you have the potential to influence other stakeholders such as donors, volunteers and media.
The days of the antiquated physician finder are over. We need to move beyond the headshots and lists of accolades to content that will engage with a prospective patient audience and allow them to make that all important connection to your physicians. It is that connection that will vehemently drive growth. We will explore some specific strategies for doing so in the next article in this series.
Sometimes its the little things that count and when it comes to hospital marketing in an ultra-competitive environment with millions of dollars at play, making sure that you have the basics covered can mean that much more.  Hospital Tries ‘Speed Dating’ To Attract Doctors, Patients – Kaiser Health News, 5/18/10  HSC 2007 Health Tracking Household Survey by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; April 2007 – January 2008