I’m not about to devalue the power of Word-of-Mouth (WOM). It is still useful and effective in healthcare marketing, but in the digital age, it has become quite a different critter from its original form.

Once upon a time (now past), every practitioner’s thought pattern about how to market a healthcare practice simply relied upon being a good practitioner to attract new patients and assure success.

Just treat everyone well—as the fable goes—and patients will rush to sign praises to their relatives, friends and neighbours. Your endorsed name is certain to be a top agenda item in “over the back-fence,” coffee cafes and beauty salon conversations.

What’s changed is that the Internet—desktop, laptop, tablet, smartphone—has largely replaced coffee chat and the printed Yellow Pages directory. Your online presence—website, blog, social media streams—is the often-neglected link between WOM and your front door.

If you can’t be found online, quickly and conveniently, the patient endorsement dissolves instantly. Here are examples of how that works, and a few reasons why patient referrals in healthcare practice marketing demand a solid digital connection.

Most patient referrals will inspire an online search, not an immediate phone call. An Internet search is the most common first action that follows even the most heartfelt verbal reference about “Dr. X.” (As much as eight out of 10 times, by some estimates.) At a minimum, people search for complete, correct and current name, address and phone number.

Elementary due diligence usually follows. With respect to referring “patient X,” individuals look online for basic confirmation of healthcare practice capabilities and practitioner credentials.

Online reviews and ratings are digital Word-of-Mouth. Pay attention to what people are saying online about their experience with your healthcare practice. Prospective patients are inclined to consider the weight of comments and ratings in making their purchase decision.

Multiple patient comments (and testimonials) are an online form of social proof. People want validation that they are making the right choice or proper decision. They see the actions of others like themselves (often many others) as proof that they are doing the right thing.

Healthcare marketing for practitioners is often bolstered by Word-of-Mouth. But for greatest reach and effectiveness, WOM advertising relies on the Internet and a strong online presence to communicate your brand, extend your reputation, and to connect prospective patient referrals to your front door.