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“Google Says I’m Dying” – The 21st Century Patient’s Digital Healthcare Journey

May 10, 2016
Posted by Vinnie Schneider

Patients are doing their own health research before ever setting foot in a doctor’s office. How can healthcare brands capitalize on this practice of self-diagnosis to encourage patients to visit their clinics over competitors?

We’ve all been there. You’re feeling a little under the weather—a bit sick to your stomach, a fever, maybe a runny nose and a sore throat. You search the web for relief and your worst fears are realized. You are presenting all of the symptoms for a rare, poorly understood disease with no known cure. Of course, a trip to your primary care physician reveals something much more benign, like the flu or the common cold.

The near instantaneous access to information that the internet affords is both a blessing and a curse when it comes to healthcare. On one hand, the public is much more informed on diseases and their prevention, but on the other hand it’s very easy to jump to conclusions.

So, how should healthcare organizations be marketing to patients in this digitally connected, hypochondriac world in which we live?

To start, it’s important to understand how important a role the internet plays in a 21st century patient’s healthcare journey.

  • 1 in 20 internet searches are healthcare related. (Source: Google)
  • 72% of internet users say they have looked online for health information in the past year. (Source: Pew Research Center)
  • 30% of patients who watch online videos about hospitals end up booking appointments. (Source: Google/Compete)
  • 66% of people are willing to use mobile phone apps to manage their health. (Source: Makovsky/Kelton)
At Dovetail, when we are working with any client, it’s important to understand target behavior. Just as consumers are more likely to purchase clothes, cars, and household items online, they are also making their healthcare decisions there.

This phenomenon is so prevalent that Google has designated the online research phase of any potential purchase the “Zero Moment of Truth” – a step that comes before the First and Second Moment of Truth, a classical marketing concept popularized in the 1950s by Procter & Gamble.



The key takeaway for healthcare brands is that patients are taking a far more active role in their own health and seek information and content on their own before ever stepping foot in a doctor’s office. By presenting themselves as experts and being a helpful source of that information, healthcare brands have an opportunity to raise brand awareness and encourage trial.

Consider this possible patient journey:

  • Ted, a 35 year old male, suffers from migraines and begins to research what could be causing them. He embarks upon his “Zero Moment of Truth”.
  • Through a search engine, he begins to find helpful content from ABC Physician Group. He reads blogs with titles like, “10 Easy Migraine Relief Tips” and, “When a Headache is Something More: Time to See a Neurologist?”. He watches a video of an ABC Physician Group doctor describing the leading migraine treatments that his office performs. He also watches a patient testimonial video of someone with similar symptoms who saw an ABC Physician Group doctor for treatment.
  • Ted starts noticing display and pre-roll advertisements for ABC Physician Group across the internet for the next several days. He also notices a billboard for ABC Physician Group on his way to work, something he has seen almost daily for the past month, but which is now even more relevant to him.
  • Eventually, as he’s still having migraines, he decides he needs to see a neurologist (his “First Moment of Truth”).
At this point, Ted goes back to the search engine—but this time he is searching a specific, branded term (as is the case for about 50% of final search queries that result in a patient actually scheduling an appointment). Ted searches, “ABC Physician Group neurologists near me”, an obvious choice, given that ABC Physician Group has already provided him with so much information up to this point.

Ted lands on the Neurology Department page of ABC Physician Group’s website. There, he is easily able to call a doctor or book an appointment right online. Within minutes, Ted has an appointment.

It’s clear that in their quest to care for more patients, ABC Physician Group is investing heavily in the digital patient journey through:

  • SEO friendly website content, and SEM buys to promote it
  • Professionally produced videos that demonstrate their expertise and patient success stories
  • Display advertising buys that retarget prior site visitors
  • Traditional media, like outdoor advertising, to support brand awareness
  • A website that prioritizes patient experience and allows for easy appointment scheduling
Through a mix of content specific to various specialties (like cardiology, pediatrics, etc.) and advertising tactics that raise brand awareness, ABC Physician Group is successfully capitalizing on the “Zero Moment of Truth”, to ensure that they are the primary choice of care during the “Second Moment of Truth” when a patient decides to ultimately schedule an appointment with a provider.

While a patient’s healthcare journey is becoming more digital, healthcare is still a very personal and emotional topic. While most providers are perceived as experts by their patients once they are in the exam room, the real opportunity for all healthcare organizations is to demonstrate their expertise from the moment a patient begins researching their symptoms online. By understanding and “holding the patient’s hand” along this new digital patient journey, starting with their “Zero Moment of Truth”, healthcare brands can attract more patients to their offices, greatly expanding their care.

Over the years, Dovetail has helped many healthcare organizations, like SLUCare Physician Group and SSM Health, define their brands, raise awareness, and grow market share. Read more about our work in our portfolio, or get in touch by clicking here.

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