Healthcare systems need to get their physician directories in order.

Recently Internet Health Management published the first-ever ranking of the most digitally advanced hospitals in the United States. The Digital 500 report ranks hospitals on how well they provide digital tools such as online scheduling.  The report reveals a disconnect between patient usage and healthcare systems’ tools in one major area: physician directories.

Nearly every hospital ranked in the report offers find-a-doctor directories. And yet only 18 percent of patients surveyed by Internet Health Management visit healthcare provider websites to use physician directories. Instead, they typically visit third-party sites such as WebMD.

The disconnect is not surprising. Based on our experiencing assessing physician directories, too often these directories are not as useful as they need to be. The most common sins we uncover are:

  • Directories that are hard to find. Oftentimes site visitors simply cannot find directories because they are buried deep in the website or poorly labeled. We suggest providing more than one path to finding the directory. Why multiple paths? Because it’s important to give visitors different ways depending on where their eyes travel on the home page. Some visitors look for a section tab. Others are looking for a prominent search bar with the physician directory options next to it, smack dab on the center of the page. The more options you give, the more likely it is visitors will find the physician directory.

  • A clumsy search experience. Another common sin is a search experience that is either difficult or lacks the filters that people want to use when they search for physicians. When a visitor starts navigating the physician directory, it’s crucial that you serve up search options that are most likely to match their requirements. Effective locators should provide a filter such as insurance accepted front and center. We know that the Number One factor influencing the search decision is whether a doctor is covered by a patient’s insurance plan. From there, a directory should help patients narrow their search by to the patient, specialty, and hospital affiliation. Directories should also help patients help patients conduct both “recovery searches.” With recovery search, a patient searches for someone they’ve received care from, whereas a discovery search is an initial search conducted for options in a particular category (such as looking for doctors who accept a patient’s insurance). Providing options such as finding a doctor by name assists in recovery search. Bottom line: make the search easy, and patients will use your directory, as our clients have learned.

  • Bad data. An effective search tool is not useful if patients encounter physician profiles that contain inaccurate or out-of-date physician and location information. And yet healthcare systems continue to struggle with managing the vagaries of their physician network, such as the addition of a new physician or a change in a physician’s locations and hours. A directory is only as good as its physician profiles. As we have blogged, we suggest that healthcare providers treat physician and location data as a precious asset, updated continuously to account for changes in your physician network.

Healthcare systems that provide user-friendly, accurate directories will drive patient traffic to their sites and physician pages and thus help patients find their best match for care. With most patient searches for physicians occurring online, it’s essential for healthcare systems to respond or be left behind. For more insight into improving your physician directory, check out our own Healthcare Marketer’s Guide to Building a Physician Directory. And contact us. We’d love to help you.