Friday, April 29, 2005

Online Advertising for Elective Medical Procedures

Elective medical procedures including cosmetic surgery and aesthetic/dermatological services present a unique opportunity to healthcare providers interested in marketing their services. Few insurance companies reimburse for these procedures and consequently patients are usually required to pay out-of-pocket. This shift in payment process changes the market for elective procedures in a number of ways as the patient:

* - Can now choose any healthcare provider they desire
* - Is more likely to comparison shop to find the best/cheapest provider
* - May travel significant distances to visit their preferred provider

As a result of these changes, the market size for elective procedures is effectively much larger than that for insurance-reimbursed services as patients can be sourced from outside of the provider’s local geographic area. For example, skilled cosmetic surgeons are highly sought after by patients in high-socioeconomic populations and these patients are willing and able to travel significant distances in order to visit a top surgeon. The large, potentially international, population for these types of elective procedures makes for a highly competitive market – one that also happens to be ideally suited to online advertising.

When people think of online advertising they typically think of banner advertisements, however new marketing strategies such as search engine optimization and contextual advertising are currently providing better returns and, if applied intelligently, can be far more effective at generating new patients and increasing business for a healthcare practice.

Very briefly, search engine optimization is marketing strategy based on targeting existing search engine traffic for terms relating to specific medical procedures. Something of a “black art” - search engine optimization (SEO) is difficult to implement effectively and results can vary greatly between providers of SEO services, however the rewards are considerable.

Example: A prominent dermatologist recently contracted my firm FirstRanked Healthcare to provide online marketing for her Los Angeles and Santa Monica dermatology practices. Los Angeles is widely recognized as a destination locale for aesthetic/cosmetic procedures and this physician saw an opportunity to increase business by targeting both local and national/international markets via online advertising and search engine optimization. As of the date of this article, her site is ranked #1 on Google and MSN for “Los Angeles dermatologist” and she is seeing a 40% increase in office appointments, all made directly through her website.

In this article I’ve focused mostly on cosmetic/aesthetic services, however almost any type of medical procedure where the patient is granted some freedom in their choice of provider can benefit from online advertising. Other applicable areas include complex procedures relating to oncology or cardiology services. As more and more patients go online to research their healthcare options*, online advertising will continue to grow as an important part of any effective healthcare advertising campaign.

* As of 2003 data, over 80% of Americans (92 Million) have used the Internet to research health information. Of this population over 19 Million have used the internet to research specific healthcare providers. Pew Internet 2003