Understanding How Patients Use Search

Healthcare Search

How are your current and prospective patients using online search to find your healthcare organization? As PEW Internet Research found earlier this year, online search is one of the first places patients start looking for health information. In fact, 8 in 10 online health inquiries start at a search engine. While search engines are the foundation for many patients’ health research, the use of search continues throughout the patient relationship with the organization, from research to scheduling an appointment to becoming a returning patient and brand advocate.

Patients find your hospital through non-branded search:

Patients are using nearly 4k unique search paths, with the top 20 paths representing 65% of all patient paths (Think with Google). The first step in the patient path to hospital selection: the search for general information. More than half discover a hospital’s website when simply looking for general information, which includes non-branded terms such as:

  • Symptoms/Departments (41%)
  • Conditions/Diseases (38%)
  • Treatments/Procedures (6%)

Patients then move on to the next step and begin to use search to evaluate specific features and compare offerings across facilities. It’s during this search process that they begin to discover new hospitals and possibly consider hospitals they already know.

Paid search can trigger action:

When your healthcare organization is seen by a patient during the research phase it can help move them into the next stage of the patient journey – consider. According to Google, after seeing a paid search ad:

  • 45% conduct searches for more information
  • 29% begin the research process
  • 28% visit website of hospital advertised
  • 21% consider hospital that was advertised
  • 5% contact hospital that was advertised

Finalizing their decision with branded search:

As patients begin to narrow down their hospital selection, they look for information on your brand. They are less likely to search for symptoms and conditions at this stage, but instead, nearly half of patients finish their journey with a branded term. This may take multiple searches, considering 61% visit 2+ hospital websites before converting. Those who are booking appointments online take more time to research through online search. Patients who booked appointments conducted 3x as many searches as those who didn’t.

How is your hospital’s online visibility throughout the patient journey from discovery to booking an appointment?


Check out Fathom’s white paper on social media in the top 15 health systems.

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