60-80% of prospective medical patients examine their treatment options online before making contact with a potential provider.
Has your practice performed competition analysis in the online realm?
Can you confidently say you know their strengths and weaknesses? Are you capitalizing on their weaknesses?
88% of US internet users look for health information online.
You’ve made the decision to invest time and energy into your practice’s appearance online and to increase customer acquisition via the Internet.
Analyzing your direct competition online will allow you to outperform them and gobble up new patients in your area.
This article will allow you to comprehensively find out who your competitors are online, what strategies and tactics they are using, what is working, and how you can outperform them and bring in tons of new patients.
Determining Your Competition
Here’s a very common scenario: a prospective patient needs treatment, a procedure, or surgery. They do not have any recommendations or referrals, so what do they do?
They will actively search online for a provider who will fill their needs.
We’ve talked extensively about why search engines will always rule the healthcare industry, but a main takeaway is that medical care is not sought out until it is needed. For example, you would not seek out a hand surgeon if you had two perfectly healthy hands. But, if a patient has lost feeling in his shoulder for an extended period of time, he will immediately search for a solution.
Online, this process happens through a search engine or a doctor review website. Therefore, we will use these two mechanisms to determine who our competition is.
Discovering your competition through search engines
It is recommended that you read through this article prior to performing your own analysis. Once you’ve finished, you may go through it again and perform the analysis for your practice.
To check out your competition, simply perform a Google search the way a prospective patient would.
If you need more information on how a patient would perform a search for your subset of practice, [hypotext target=”search-competition”]expand this text box[/hypotext].
[hypotext id=”search-competition”]In order to determine the terminology a patient would use to search for your specific segment of care, consider the following questions:
1) What is the patient searching for?
The technical name of your specialization will likely not be the way a prospective patient refers to it.
For example, it would be unlikely for an average patient to refer to an Otolaryngologist by the formal name – it would be more likely to call him or her an ENT, or an ears, nose, and throat doctor.
A general physician may not be searched for as such, the more popular term would likely just be “doctor.”
For our running example, we’ll use an ENT. As we mentioned, we should not move forward with the search term “otolaryngologist,” but rather “ENT.”
2) Where geographically is the patient searching?
Make sure you consider the size of your geographical location.
How people will search differs depending on the size of the area your practice is located in.
What do you refer to your immediate area as? If your practice is in a small rural area, you might discuss things as they relate to your county.
If you were living in Ringtown, Pennsylvania (population ~800), you would probably expect a patient to be searching for “Schuylkill County” instead.
If you live in a major city, you probably would not search by county because your city is likely to provide sufficient resources. If you were searching in New York City, you would likely search for “[type of doctor] new york city”
Consider how far people normally travel for every day activities. If the travel takes place inter-towns, then you likely should expand your search radius to include a county.
In our example, our ENT is from Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh is definitely large enough to assume an average user will be searching for the city. Therefore, the search term we’ll now move forward with is “ENT Pittsburgh.”
3) How specialized is the query?
Similarly, the level of specialization of the treatment will determine the geographic search term.
If someone was going for a normal checkup, they would default to the searches listed above. If someone was looking for cosmetic hand surgery, perhaps the search would include the entire state!
In our example, an ENT is not specialized enough to justify broadening our search beyond our city. Therefore, we will continue to use “ENT Pittsburgh.”[/hypotext]
For our example, we will be using “ENT Pittsburgh” so we will add that as our “Search Term Used in Google” cell in our Excel Spreadsheet:
Here’s what our search results page looks like:
Now, we’ll want to analyze three of our competitors from the Google search results page, and two from our review site.
PLEASE NOTE: If you haven’t already grabbed the free, downloadable “Healthcare Competition Analysis” spreadsheet, please do now. It will cut the time it takes you to perform this exercise in half.
On this first page, we can quickly notice that HealthGrades, a review site, is listed first. We will save HealthGrades for our review site portion and add that as the “Review Site Used” in our worksheet:
A further glance of the search results page shows a few things we can ignore: “Best Doctors 2012 – Pittsburgh Magazine” can be ignored because it is outdated. The WebMD list at the bottom of the page can also be ignored because it is simply an index of Otolaryngologists.
So, we have the following groups of results from the search engines page:
It is obvious to us that Dr. Joseph Turner has initiated a significant search engine optimization campaign, as two inner pages of his websites appear on the first page as well (a press release citing his services, and a specific ranking on RateMDs. Conversely, you can see that the HealthGrades results is a more “generic” “Otolaryngolostis near Pittsburgh, PA”)
He is also outranking a large university hospital. The powers of SEO!
In our competitor worksheet, we’ll add Dr. Joseph Turner as Competitor 1.
His Google + Local listing was 1 (he didn’t have any reviews), and his organic listings were in spots 7 and 8.
In order to find his website, we may need to Google his name. In this instance, it doesn’t look like Dr. Turner has a website, so we will leave this piece blank.
We’ll save the review listing cells for later. As of now, our spreadsheet looks like this:
Next, we will add the overall brand of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center as competitor two, and we will add in the appropriate data to our sheet. UPMC has a variety of websites and smaller pieces (including the Children’s Hospital), but we will just use their main ENT page for now:
For our third competitor, we will actually use South Hills ENT Association because they have a stronger presence than the Allegheny Pediatric listing, which only features a single Google+ Local listing:
Note that two out of the three listings in our worksheet are group practices or hospitals. This is okay – we will be grabbing individual Otolaryngologists from HealthGrades.
Discovering your competition through the review site
For the review site portion of this analysis, we will use HealthGrades because it appeared first in Google.
Remember, we are putting ourselves in a prospective patient’s shoes. We have actively searched for “ENT Pittsburgh,” and, unless we have a favorite review site (in which case we will go directly there), we would be clicking on the first review site that appeared.
We can simply click on the link in Google to head directly to the HealthGrades page for Otolaryngologists in Pittsburgh.
Here are the top three results we find:
Since we are looking for two Doctors from this results page, we will add Dr. Orsini and Dr. Schein II to our worksheet, and write in the corresponding information:
Let’s look on the page and see if Dr. Turner is listed, or if any of the four Physicians from South Hills are present as well:
Dr. Turner is listed, at 17th overall, with five reviews of a five star rating. Dr. Wawrose, from South Hills, is listed 21st with 8 reviews, averaging 3.5 stars.
We’ll note this information in our sheet and place Dr. Wawrose in the cell to the right of the overall listing for South Hills.
For each piece of remaining information that we need, we will Google the Physician’s name.
We’ll also check on their websites or their practice’s websites for a Facebook and Twitter account.
Let’s go through a couple examples together:
Dr. George Schein II
Here, we are looking for a website, Google+ Local, and social media accounts. We’ll start by Googling Dr. Schein’s name:
Since we do NOT find a website, we can safely assume he does not have one. Similarly, if we comb through a couple pages of the search results, we will not find a Twitter or Facebook account. We can safely assume Dr. Schein does not have a Twitter or Facebook account because those results will show up in Google (you’ll see an example below).
There is, however, a Google+ Local listing with 0 reviews. We’ll mark our spreadsheet accordingly and move on:
Dr. Michael A Orsini
Again, we are looking for a website, Google+ Local, and social media accounts. We’ll start by Googling his name:
We immediately learn that Dr. Orsini is part of a group practice: Froman, Orsini, Rago & Associates. There are also a few Google+ Local pages, signifying multiple locations, but there is only one review on one of the practices.
If we explore the practice’s website, we will not find any social media links, generally meaning there is no Facebook or Twitter account for the practice. We can double-check this by Googling for the practice name and combing through a few pages.
Again, we fill in the relevant information in our sheet and continue:
None of the competitors outside of UPMC have social media accounts. The implications of this discovery will be discussed at the conclusion of this article. For now, let’s analyze UPMC’s social media in order to practice an example.
We start by Googling “University of Pittsburgh Medical Center”
On the second page, we can see the Medical Center’s Social Media accounts.
Let’s look through Facebook first (remember to add the link to the Facebook page in the proper cell slot).
We’ll add the appropriate amount of likes to our chart – 62,890 (that’s a lot!).
Next, we’ll scroll through the last ten posts the account has made to determine how frequently they are posting. Here, UPMC is posting 3 or so times a day (also a ton!). Let’s add “about 3 times a day” to the proper cell.
We’ll do the same for the UPMC Twitter page:
They are posting about ten times a day on Twitter and have 6,599 followers, so let’s add that information:
Why do we care what the hospital is doing on social media if we are competing against specific physicians?
Similarly, why do we look for what the practice says on Facebook or Twitter, as opposed to the individual physician?
The reason is because physicians who belong to a hospital or group practice leverage the overall brand of that hospital or practice. Yes, this is an advantage, but it is the way the consumer views this practice and we must take that into consideration.
Now that we have run through examples of each type of result, we should now be able to fill in our complete sheet.
The good stuff: the analysis
The purpose of this competitive analysis is to determine what your competition is currently doing, what results they have achieved, and where the opportunity is for your practice to stand out.
We will thus be able to determine what exactly is needed in order to outperform competing practices online.
We will not perform our analysis of UPMC because, as a small theoretical practice, we would not be able to compete with them. They have dedicated personalities running their social media accounts and likely have superior equipment and facilities than a smaller practice does.
However, the small practice would automatically win prospective patients who are looking for a more intimate feel or who do not enjoy treatment at a hospital.
Only two out of the four practices we examined have a standing website. Those two websites are fairly poor and outdated as well. We could potentially build a website that looks more impressive than the competition. This is a good idea – we will need a website if we want to show up in Google.
Neither of these websites are “mobile friendly,” meaning they will not create a good user experience on a mobile device.
This is good news for us because Google favors mobile friendly websites and it is easier to get to the top of Google if you have one (81% of #1 listings in Google are classified as “mobile friendly.”)
A smaller practice does not need an intensive website and a mini-site would be more than sufficient.
Google+ Local is the first really interesting portion of our review. None of the practices analyzed have more than 1 review on Google+ Local, meaning there is a huge opportunity to show up first in the Google+ Local listings simply by asking patients to leave a review with us.
For more information on how to get quality reviews on Google+ Local, you can see the step by step guide on patient reviews.
Review Site (HealthGrades):
HealthGrades was a little stiffer competition, as Dr. Orsini had 48 reviews with a 4.5 star rating. If we wanted to take him on, we would need to calculate the number of reviews that we reasonably could amass in an average week.
Generally, only 10-20% of patients will leave a review if you ask them to, and you have to know how to ask them properly. In this particular example, we would be better off focusing on Google+ Local.
However, HealthGrades (which sold in 2010 for over $294 million) gets a tremendous amount of appointments booked through its platform, so Dr. Orsini has likely received hundreds of patients simply by ranking well on HealthGrades. The payout in this regard is great.
To get a rough estimate of how many reviews you could get in a week, take the amount of patients your practice sees in a given week and divide by 20.
There is also a huge opportunity to appear on social media sites as an authority since no major competitor is active on any network.
While social media will not get you automatically discovered (you won’t appear on the top of Google because of it), it will give you a huge amount of credibility in the eyes of prospective patients.
A 2011 report by the research organization YouGov found that 81% of consumers believe that a practice is more likely to be cutting edge if it has a strong media presence. You can imagine what the 2015 report would say.
The majority of consumers compare before purchasing and seeking out healthcare is no different. If a prospective patient considers two options to be otherwise relatively similar, the practice with the more active social media account will win.
This point is actually quite important: if other competitors in our analysis were active on social media, we would look comparatively worse if we did not “keep up with the Joneses.” In that instance, we would definitely need to have a strong social media presence.
Similarly, none of the competing practices hold a blog or creates content that builds them as an authority figure.
This is another massive opportunity because content posted on a blog will show up in search results. Imagine a prospective patient clicking on an article, authored by you, titled “What to look for in an ENT in the Pittsburgh area.”
Of course, consistently creating content is not easy, and it might not be right for your practice, so make sure to perform extensive research before making this decision.
Organic Search Results:
How hard is it to get to the top of Google on this search result? One would suspect it is quite difficult, due to the fact that Pittsburgh is a major US city. However, this is not the case!
The technical reasons go far beyond the scope of this article, but one easy rule of thumb is to check out the inner pages ranking on this search result:
Here, the inner page of the same website ranks higher than the home page! This is because the overall strength of that given home page is considered weak.
However, that “weak” home page is the #3 result on all of page one!
Search Engine Optimization will always be the best way to get discovered by new patients, and your practice’s top priority should be showing up high in Google.
Conclusion: Pick ONE Element to Focus on
While it may be tempting to try to do everything in an attempt to acquire new patients online, it is crucial to focus on one single element to improve and pour your efforts into that piece until you see some results.
The point of quality analysis is to determine the strengths and weaknesses of your competition, what works for them, and where there is opportunity for your practice to take ownership and attract new patients online.
If this is your first read through of this post, you should take a break! When you are ready, come back and go through the exercises using our free spreadsheet exclusively made for this analysis.
This post is also incredibly related to the concept of specialization in the healthcare field. Competitive analysis exposes the “what,” but specialization and branding determine the “how.”
If you are ready to move on and make significant improvements to your practice, here are the areas you should review next:
The Definitive Guide for Healthcare Practices: Thriving Online
Analyzing Your Practice (Recommended Reading First)
[Branding] How to Brand Your Practice and Skyrocket Revenue by 792%: The more competition increases, the more dangerous it is to be known as “another healthcare practice.” This article provides step-by-step instructions on how to brand your practice, and how to unlock the small amount of patients who could be responsible for the majority of your revenue.
[Competition Analysis] How to: Uncover These Hidden Competitive Advantages: Do you know which of your competing practices are online? What are their strategies? What specific tactics should your practice use to outperform the unique strategies your competitors are using? This guide shows you exactly how to use the internet to uncover what works and what does not work — and then reveals how to put your practice at the front of the line.
Specific Marketing Strategies
[Leveraging Review Sites] 34 New Patients in 52 days From One Simple Technique?: There are over 25 doctor/patient review sites and 4 million reviews online. 60-80% of patients perform research online prior to reaching out to a healthcare professional. This guide lays out the exact plan needed to effortlessly leverage review sites and potentially bring in hundreds of brand new patients every single year.
[Social Media Strategies] How to: Copy this Facebook Strategy for Shocking Results: In this social media article, specific strategies are discussed for Facebook. What time of day to post, how many days a week to post, what content to post, and how to find or create that content are all explicitly laid out.
[The Power of Search Engines] This Dirty Patient Acquisition Secret Will Make You Shudder: Lots of industries benefit from copious advertising opportunities through social media and the entire web. Unfortunately, healthcare cannot benefit for many of these categories. This article breaks down the exact elements your practice should stick with, and what the pros and cons of each method are.
 Pho, Kevin, and Susan Gay. Establishing, Managing, and Protecting Your Online Reputation: A Social Media Guide for Physicians and Medical Practices. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.
 “How Consumer Healthcare Companies Can Leverage Social Media.” McKinsey on Marketing & Sales. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 July 2015.
 YouGov Consumers’ use, preference, and expectations of social media, http://corp.yougov.com/healthcare/consumers-use-preference-expectations-hospital-social-media (2010, accessed 5 September 2012).