Use blogging to answer common patient questions
I get this question a lot. My answer sometimes surprises the questioner.
A daily reality for healthcare providers is that patients have a lot of questions – more than there’s time to answer. So how does a clinician balance the obligations of healthcare provider with healthcare informer?
All hail the power and the glory of the Internet. In the clinic, providers talk to patients one-to-one in exam rooms. On websites and in social media they can say it once to hundreds or thousands of healthcare consumers.
Blogs penned by healthcare providers are immensely popular. Google tells us so in two ways – how it ranks blogs in its search engine, and by the number of visits it records to blog pages on our clients’ websites.
Doctors’ blogs are often among the top-20 most visited pages on their websites and frequently in the top 10. But many bloggers erroneously believe you have to feed the blog machine weekly or even daily.
I know who frequently feeds the myth: online marketing companies wanting to sell their ghost-blogging services for big fees.
Truth is, however, that even occasional blogging can both bring more new patients to a medical practice and also generate satisfaction by serving as public educator. Below are a few guidelines on getting the maximum return on the minimum effort.
Blogs by primary care physicians
Here at Vanguard we gauge marketing ROI through website analytics – the software installed on a website that tells us the number of daily visitors, what pages they’re visiting, how long they’re visiting each page, and so on.
Website analytics are an omniscient microscope into human behavior. You can learn a ton from slicing and dicing reams of data from them. One treasured tidbit we’ve learned from analytics is that Internet browsers react to health stories in the news.
This patient habit especially burdens primary care physicians. The primary-care specialty tends to get more general health questions and thus have more patient curiosity to satisfy. Unfortunately, they are also usually the busiest providers.
Given their time squeeze, PCPs might consider a telegraphic style of blogging once a month. That is, they can post some sort of stream-of-consciousness blog on general health issues in the news once a month.
These can be quite informal, written in a conversational format and answering the most common questions they’re hearing in exam rooms daily. One simple method is to simply repeat the three or four most common questions posed by patients over the last 30 days and respond in a Q&A or FAQ format.
Sample blog topics for current healthcare issues:
- The likelihood of ebola infections in the U.S. and precautions ordinary Americans might consider in case the disease grows here
- Common-sense tips for the upcoming cold and flu season (especially for pregnant women and the elderly)
- What parents should know about the Enterovirus D68.
Blogging for specialist physicians
For specialists and sub-specialists, conditions and new clinical information rarely evolve quite as quickly or voluminously as in primary care. The net effect is that website updates can be at about half the frequency: about once every two months at minimum. Such a modest frequency conveys some sense of regularly activity on the website.
A blog posting is usually the easiest, most effective update to a practice’s website, as blogs can be conversational in tone. They also don’t require the more structured, referenced form of physician-patient writing required by journals or even website articles aimed at broad patient education.
As is the case for primary-care bloggers, specialist topics can reflect what’s generally in the news recently pertinent to the specialty. Probably the best way to come up with ideas quickly is to do a search for any specialty-related condition or treatment on Google News (select the “news” menu item in the Google search engine).
Or simply do a fast search on one of the health-consumer-oriented websites such as WebMD, CNN Health, or MedLinePlus, the patient-oriented site published by the NIH.
Blog ideas for specialists:
- Pulmonology: In the excitement over e-cigarettes as a healthier alternative to traditional tobacco use, what are the hidden risks?
- Neurology: Now that marijuana is legal in some places, what does research say about its long-term effects on brain function?
- Cardiology: New research reveals more about why red meat is bad for heart health – namely that intestinal bacteria convert carnitine, a protein building block that’s especially plentiful in beef, lamb, and venison, into compounds that speed up hardening and thickening of artery walls. So how much red meat can you eat safely?
These kinds of blogs can have not only a positive effect on healthcare consumers and help build trust in the providers; they can also help improving search-engine rankings, thereby increasing providers’ Internet visibility.
Healthcare social media updates
The beauty of social media is that it’s generally an echo chamber, meaning that you simply summarize and repeat what you’ve already said somewhere else on the Internet – usually your own website.
We typically make about 20 posts a month to our clients’ social media websites. But even two social media postings a month is enough to convey the sense that the physician/practice is active on social media sufficiently for users to pay attention.
The posts can be very short, one- or two-sentence summaries of excerpts of blogs or articles or news briefs posted to the providers’ websites. The idea is to write a sort of Internet headline and then link to the blog or article on the main website.
Sometimes just a little effort will go a long way to growing Internet visibility and credibility – and thus new patient growth.
To summarize, reasons healthcare providers should consider blogging as a means of regularly providing new patient information online include:
- As a community service
- As a boost to online awareness and Internet search-ability of a physician or practice
- To give visitors reasons to return to the website, especially visitors who are not yet patients
- To save time answer common questions in the exam room
If any of these objectives seem worthwhile, then spending even a little time on Internet communications may prove worthwhile to almost any clinician.
Not sure where to start?
We can help! Vanguard’s staff of medical writers are experts at writing blogs about complex medical or ethical issues, taking care to write in the individual “voice” of each of our doctors. You can also watch the video link below to learn how to set up your own blog.