Seven out of ten times (probably more), the internet is where the first encounter between a clinic and a prospective new patient occurs. But it does not stop there.

Long before an individual selects a healthcare provider for a condition, they often begin their decision journey with online due diligence. And when providers and communications professionals understand the process steps, they are better equipped to influence and guide the individual from prospective new patient to patient and beyond.

The trouble is the entire process is increasingly complex. Prospective new patients do not follow the traditional linear path from “consideration” to “purchase.”

Way back then (whenever “then” was), the process was simply: Browse > Shop > Buy. Various sources apply different names and sub-divisions, but the more detailed “funnel” has become:

  • AWARENESS: Sometimes called perception of need or problem recognition
  • CONSIDERATION: The start of the information search, evaluation, and education.
  • INTENT: The choice narrows, often the final decision.
  • PURCHASE: First transaction (encounter, appointment) completed.
  • LOYALTY: Presuming a positive and satisfactory patient experience, the individual is “bonded” to the provider, and likely to return for future needs or repeat purchases.
  • ADVOCACY: The “post-purchase behaviour” includes references, recommendations, referrals, and word-of-mouth.

The added complexity of the decision-making process is mapped, comparing THEN v. NOW and MENTAL v. PHYSICAL quadrants. Historic PHYSICAL needs—Economic, Severity, Timing, Availability and Distance—are shown as the same in THEN v. NOW.

It is the MENTAL considerations that have grown from three basic items THEN

  • Personal Experience
  • Advertising (hearing from the brand)
  • Word of Mouth (hearing from others)

to also include NOW

  • Online Information (WebMD, etc.)
  • Social Media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.)
  • Rankings/Ratings
  • Patient Reviews (Google reviews, etc.)
  • Online Patient Communities

The picture is often more complex. We would certainly add to this list the provider’s own Internet presence, such as their website, YouTube, blog. Plus, there are organic search results, directory listings, etc.

No matter how you perceive the real-world process steps, it’s important to recognize that the influence factors are rapidly increasing, and that patients use the Internet to be educated, informed and to do due diligence more than ever before.