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Digital Transformation

8: A Patient Portal Is Sticky

To see all the other posts, visit the main What Is A Patient Portal post.

In many ways, “stickiness” can be seen as a composite of everything else I’ve defined in all the patient portal posts.   It merits it’s own post because getting a patient to the site and having them return multiple times represents the ultimate goal.  For hospitals though, this also represents the main challenge.  Let’s face it, we don’t usually think our local hospital if we have any health related questions.  We think of Google or WebMD if we want information on a specific topic.  We go to our insurer to find a good doctor that accepts our insurance.  We use other resources to get directions to a hospital, clinic, or affiliated doctor’s office.  A sticky patient portal has to overcome habit in order to become successful.  Frankly, it’s not easy.  A patient portal will never become a destination site.   That said, there are a number of things you can do to make your site sticky.  Here’s a list of things that can help.

  1. Provide content that’s valuable and unique. I spoke to one director of online marketing at a large hospital chain.  He did something I don’t see often.  He flat out refused to use third party health content firms like Adam, Epsco, and a host of others.  He pointed out that this content is not unique and more often than not leads away from your site.  It also chews up a largish part of your budget.  One insurer chose to use WebMD and in doing so, co-branded because they discovered most members had no trust in content provided by the insurer.  Oddly enough, patients will trust well  known names and even a local hospital over an insurer.  A hospital should question what unique content will lead patients to your site and what content are they capable of creating?  Large firms like Kaiser provide their own content.  Here are some examples. Glass Hospital has some posts relevant to patients and some relevant to doctors. Florida Hospital has the top one for searches on “hospital blog”  All of their content focuses on the patient.
  2. Think about video content that enlightens and helps.  Here’s an interesting kiosk video as an idea.

  3. Make the site usable.  This has everything to do with human factors or user experience.  This includes content and functions in a traditional patient portal and content outside in the consumer facing site.  I could provide  a couple posts on this topic alone but making a site usable don’t forget:
    1. Label the site with terms a patient will use, not one your doctor’s understand
    2. Don’t get in the way of important transactions.  If a patient comes to pay their bill then make it easy. If they come to setup an appointment then let them find it easily and quickly.
    3. Layout the site in a manner where the most important content is only a couple clicks a way
    4. Layout the site in a way that patients or consumers find logical.
    5. Use a variety of tools to help them find their content quickly.  One hospital chain had an issue where their competition made it easy to get to key content and offerings while they had to have the patient click through three times to get to their hospital and hyper local content.  Personalization, click stream analysis, and other tools can help you determine where they are physically, and what their interests were last time they visited.   Tertiary navigation options that allow deep linking to sections of the site can also help……..or hinder depending on how you do it.
    6. Use web analytics to determine what’s happening on the site and then change your site accordingly.  Web Analytics are useless if you only track but never change based on what you learn.
  4. Provide transactions or apps with value.   This could be a wide range of things but figure out what patients want to see or use and work with it.  Do you want to become the premier local educational outlet for a specific topic then make it easy to find and sign up for it.  Do you want to become a great way to lookup conditions, then invest in a graphics based wizard on your site and give it top billing.
  5. Treat the user like you know them. This has more to do with personalization and contextualization but it’s important.  Let me give a counter example.  For years I used Budget Car Rental.  I eventually grew disgusted with them because while they claimed to care about me, every time I had a problem, I was forced into a long line.  They never recognized me as a returning customer.  Their buses ran much less frequently than their competition. When I did speak to them on the phone or in person, I gave them the same information over and over and over……..and then they treated me like a person off the street renting for the first time.  If you treat your consumers and patient like Budget treated me, you won’t have sticky site.
  6. Don’t disregard mobile (upcoming post).  Make it a key component of your strategy and make the mobile users experience great as well.

So there you are, several ideas on how to make your site sticky.  It’s important you have a strategy to engage your consumers and patients.  Failure to do so will relegate you site to the poor part of town in internet terms.  No one will want to visit and an increasingly online populace will shun your hospital.

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Michael Porter

Mike Porter leads the Strategic Advisors team for Perficient. He has more than 21 years of experience helping organizations with technology and digital transformation, specifically around solving business problems related to CRM and data.

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