online marketingEditor’s Note: This article first appeared in the March/April issue of Spectrum, a newsletter of the Society for Healthcare Strategy & Market Development, and is presented here with permission.

“Internet” proved to be the key word in Pomona Valley Health Centers’ marketing campaign to connect patients with its outpatient sites.

By Chris Aldworth and Lonnie Hirsch

The dynamics of change in American society and the nation’s healthcare delivery structure have opened new hospital advertising and marketing opportunities. Consider how Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center (PVHMC) and Pomona Valley Health Centers (PVHC), the hospital’s outpatient family medicine and urgent care clinics, are using Internet strategies to attract new patients.

Like PVHMC, many progressive hospitals are re-thinking their traditional list of inpatient care centers to include hospital-owned and operated outpatient clinics. What’s more, today’s healthcare consumers have redefined their traditional concept of “walk-in” for community-based urgent care facilities.

Connecting at the First Call

The Internet has proven to be an important and highly effective gateway for PVHMC services according to PVHMC’s vice president, Satellite Division, Chris Aldworth. “Our Internet search advertising campaign generates well over 100 unique phone calls per month to our urgent care clinics and our family medicine clinics.

“Local residents find us online, and interestingly, a phone call frequently precedes a clinic visit even to our walk-in urgent care clinics. There’s a strong indication that they saw our online advertising message on a Smartphone and they dialed through immediately.

“Even when the caller is simply confirming availability or asking about waiting times, they most often call before they come in. Better yet, we can track all calls and have access to each call recording through our unique tracking phone numbers we use in our online advertising campaign.”

Online search advertising was also used in support of the launch of a new 3D mammography (digital tomosynthesis) program at PVHMC. “For the launch of the 3D mammography program, we developed a separate search advertising campaign,” Lonnie Hirsch explained.

“The introductory campaign generated hundreds of phone calls over a three-month initial schedule, using mammogram and breast cancer screening related keywords.” 3D mammography is state-of-the art technology for the detection of breast cancer, and PVHMC has replaced all of its mammography machines with this latest technology.

Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center, founded in 1903, has a long history of innovation and service to the community, and the hospital is active in the use of Internet communications tools. With more than a century of history, PVHMC is a nationally recognized and fully accredited acute care hospital that serves residents of eastern Los Angeles and western San Bernardino counties.

PVHC Urgent Care presently has satellite locations in Chino Hills and Claremont, with extended hours 365 days a year. Although cardiovascular care, orthopedics and the like remain at the top of the traditional list of centers of care, new patient calls to the outpatient facilities have been driven by continuing pay-per-click (PPC) online search advertising as well as retargeting.

“Our PVHC Urgent Care outpatient clinics are important extensions of our medical service to the region,” Aldworth said. “The competitive environment within the walk-in medical industry has been growing, and it is appropriate to support our outpatient clinics much as we would any of our hospital care centers.”

User statistics clearly signaled the advantages of reaching a pre-qualified target audience via online advertising. More than ever, prospective patients are searching online for medical resources.

Nationwide, about 80 percent of Internet users—nearly 60 percent of US adults—look online for health information, 55 percent search for information about medical treatment or procedure, and 47 percent look for information about doctors or other health professions. [Pew Research Center, 2011, The Social Life of Health Information]

The Immediacy of Need and Search Effectiveness

The PVHC pay-per-click advertising campaign was designed—among many considerations—to focus on specific online search keywords about urgent care, walk-in clinics, and similar terms. Prioritized search keywords are those commonly used when someone seeks immediate care, as opposed to information about a particular disease or health condition.

“Internet advertising is one of the six fundamental ways to market hospital services,” Lonnie Hirsch explained, “and search advertising has been an effective tool for these hospital-owned outpatient clinics for several reasons.

“Broadly speaking, the Internet and online search has become a highly influential force for educating and informing today’s healthcare consumer. But more specifically, immediacy is a commanding factor.

“Individuals in need of prompt (but not life-threatening) medical attention can identify walk-in clinic locations in a matter of seconds…much faster, by comparison, than they could even find a printed Yellow Pages directory a few years ago.”

In addition, the mainstream popularity of Smartphones and tablets has taken online search and medical resources mobile. No longer tethered to a stationary desktop, or even a laptop, empowered consumers have information available anywhere and at any time.

The Internet has become the first-stop resource for healthcare information of all types. It’s an ever-present digital bridge between patients in need and urgent care (as well as not-so-urgent) healthcare resources.

Internet Advertising Advantages in Hospital Care Centers

Search engine marketing—consisting primarily of PPC campaigns like Google AdWords as well as retargeting ads—are highly versatile and particularly effective in communicating with the public at exactly the moment they are looking online for answers to a medical need. Keyword logic detects when their search relates to a specific hospital care and localized region. In effect, ads are selectively presented to a pre-qualified target audience.

A further advantage of PPC is that the cost is limited to visitors who take action; those who actively choose to respond to the ad by clicking through to your landing page or website. This interactivity is documented in near real-time, and analytics reveal what works best and where adjustments can be made. Tracking reports reveal results such as the number of site visitors, phone calls, transactions, scheduled appointments, etc.

Internet PPC advertising is only one of several marketing solutions, and it may not be suitable for every situation. The benefits to consider, however, are strong. When PPC can be utilized to reach prospective patients who are actively seeking health information and resources, it lowers advertising risk and is often among the most successful and profitable applications of the overall advertising budget.

In addition to the advantages noted above, online marketing harbors other key benefits for hospital care options:

Budget control and flexibility. With a relatively low entry threshold, PPC advertising costs can be tightly contained within pre-defined, and quickly adjusted, parameters. And as noted, cost is not based on the visibility of the online ad, only when the visitor clicks for more information.

Localized and/or scalable focus. The criteria for where and when advertising is shown can be adjusted—up or down—to correspond to online users who are searching for nearby resources…within the geographic coverage area of your hospital.

Quick to market. Unlike many traditional advertising forms, the digital nature of online advertising allows advertising campaigns to be created, launched, and producing results quickly. Contrast this form to advertising display space in a magazine, for example, that may have a lead-time of many weeks.

Testing, testing, testing. Internet advertising provides the means to test—and to immediately adjust—many of the variables in the campaign. Testing before rollout further reduces risk and enhances performance potential.

“When we first started testing online search advertising, we were not sure if it was going to be a productive use of part of our marketing budget,” Aldworth said.

“We quickly became believers because of the almost immediate response and availability of electronic tracking mechanisms that allow us to quantify results and return on our investment. I only wish we had started sooner, but I’m certainly not complaining.”

Chris Aldworth, Vice President, Satellite Division, Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center, Pomona, CA, 909-865-9750

Lonnie Hirsch. Co-Founder, Healthcare Success, Irvine, CA, 800-656-0907

This article first appeared in the March/April issue of Spectrum, a newsletter of the Society for Healthcare Strategy & Market Development.

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Stewart Gandolf

Stewart Gandolf

Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder at Healthcare Success Strategies
Stewart Gandolf, MBA, is CEO of Healthcare Success, a medical marketing and health care advertising agency. He is also a frequent writer and speaker. Most importantly, he is happily married and a "rock-n-roll daddy" to two wonderful girls.
Stewart Gandolf
Stewart Gandolf


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