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Can symptom checkers boost patient acquisition?

With their ability to analyze patient data and reveal population-level health trends, symptom checkers can greatly assist healthcare marketers. That includes patient-oriented campaigns and reaching out to new users.

At a glance

Symptom checkers can be used as patient engagement activators and part of patient retention strategies.
Symptom checkers can be used as patient engagement activators and part of patient retention strategies. Illustration by Aga Więckowska.

Marketing in the health industry is an increasingly complex task. First, it means communicating with people on a personal level about intimate health topics. Next, there are privacy concerns that in the expanding world of digital healthcare must be taken into the highest consideration.

Healthcare specialists are constantly seeking new messaging and communication channels to help patients connect with the right services within their network. Budgets to acquire new patients are immense. But what if instead of spending another marketing dollar on ads, healthcare organizations could equip their audiences with reliable medical tools leading back to their health services? What if the same tool could boost customer loyalty and retention?

Symptom checkers: an integral part of patient marketing strategy

Symptom-checking tools can be adapted to access a wide spectrum of marketing possibilities. This includes wide-reaching campaigns with patient-oriented communication, guiding users to personalized offers, and learning more about individual patients’ needs. By doing so, symptom checkers bring patient marketing strategies to a whole new level. In contrast to traditional marketing campaigns, symptom checkers can actually help users by providing reliable medical recommendations. What’s more, symptom checkers address global healthcare trends that are moving users and services into the digital world.

Post-pandemic patient acquisition

The past few years showed us that the digital environment is a crucial space for communicating with patients, as it provides access to health services through digital front doors and online portals. Before the coronavirus outbreak, over 88% of respondents declared that they would choose their next medical provider based on their online presence (Black Book Market Research, 2018). Also, McKinsey reported that 73% of analyzed healthcare consumers would use digital solutions to find a doctor whereas the internet was used primarily to find information.

Through the first waves of the pandemic, we watched as the healthcare industry accelerated toward a digital revolution. Finding information is transforming into taking action. From 2019 to 2021 usage of telemedicine appointments grew from 3% to 24%, as presented in the latest results of McKinsey’s survey of US consumers. User behavior is also changing. People more often reach out to the internet for medical information. The increased activity of digital patients is visible in the intensity of the messaging with their physicians—during the pandemic it grew by more than 150%.

These trends are reflected in our symptom checker’s data. In our recent Symptomate Survey, users overwhelmingly sought medical guidance. Over 40% of respondents didn’t know if they should visit a doctor before they used the symptom checker. Symptomate proposed a triage level (self-care, medical consultation, or visiting an ED) to them, and many listened. In the end, 55% of our survey’s respondents who were recommended to self-care stayed at home, and 56% of those who were recommended to seek consultation decided to visit a physician.

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By tapping into these trends with digital health assessment tools, organizations can begin to build trust with their user base. By empowering patients with symptom checkers, organizations support informed decision-making, promote user engagement, and show clients their health is key. What’s more, digital health tools provide a medically verified alternative for those who prefer to Google their symptoms (and believe in that information, for better or worse.)

Develop a patient acquisition flow using symptom checkers

The basic role of symptom checkers is to assess patients’ initial symptoms, ask complementary questions, and calculate the probability of their underlying condition(s). Used as a digital front door to the health system's services, they also work as a patient acquisition tool, helping to invite in new users and present them with a solution offer matched exactly with their needs.

Example patient acquisition flow:

1. Patient-oriented marketing activities

2. Free pre-login symptom checker available for all users

3. Short, preliminary health interview (symptom checker)

4. Presentation of the possible diagnoses and triage level (symptom checker)

5. Presentation of a personalized service offer, based on symptom checker results

6. User selects one of the offered services

7. User logs in to the system

8. User adds booking and payment details to their selected service.

This flow can also be modified or extended. Symptom checkers can be used as obligatory pre-visit tools that support physicians or link to an information database. In the case of symptom checkers integrated with EHR systems, patient information can be seamlessly attached to their files and checked by the physicians before the visit.

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A user-focused approach to patient marketing strategies

Using symptom checkers as patient acquisition tools can help shift user communication. Instead of promoting the organization’s best-performing services, marketers can focus instead on patients’ needs.

In this situation, marketing campaigns can be oriented toward verifying symptoms and finding the right solution for a user ("Run a digital symptom check to understand reasons behind your headache") instead of promoting exact medical specialties or tests ("Schedule a visit with our experts in neurology"). This way, communication becomes focused on the users and their needs.

An example of this user-focused communication:

“How can we help? Use a free symptom checker and verify what medical help you need."
“Not sure if you should visit a doctor? Run a self-examination and see the likely causes of your symptoms."
“GP or gynecologist? Check your health with an online symptom checker and find out which one you should see."

Using messaging like this, healthcare marketers can link users of the symptom checker to a personalized offer, based on the user’s answers and the symptom checker’s recommendations.

Personalization with symptom checkers

Symptom checkers provide vital information to both patients and marketers. This includes a list of the users’ most likely underlying medical condition(s), their triage level, a proposed specialist, and recommended communication channels. Healthcare marketers can further expand the symptom checker’s output with an additional screen presenting health services filtered by the symptom checker’s results and hence adjusted to the user. This way, patients get initial health information, guidance to appropriate medical services, and make well-informed decisions in one step.

Here are some samples of how it works:

Sample symptom checker results and personalized services. Table by Aga Więckowska.
Sample symptom checker results and personalized services. Table by Aleksandra Kwiecień and Aga Więckowska.

Depending on the triage level, healthcare marketers can also expand basic offers with upsell opportunities. For example, patients with self-care can stay at home and skip a medical consultation, but if they are eager to learn more, they can be transferred to available medical guidelines, online pharmacies, lab tests, nursing, or offered screening or periodic health checkups.

Long-term insights shaping patient acquisition techniques

Symptom checkers can also offer important insights into patient needs based on analyzed symptoms, existing risk factors, and probable underlying conditions. These large data sets can reveal population-level trends about seasonal illnesses, the most prevalent risk factors across the population, and growth of rare diseases caused by environmental factors. This data allows marketers to build campaigns around very specific topics relevant to their target patient population.

At the same time, this data will be useful for service planning or predictive modeling.

Based on the symptom checker’s data, healthcare marketers can build unique patient marketing strategies and campaigns across many communication channels—from social media and web pages to apps, mailings, and even online communication, they can help patients find the services they really need.

Who can use symptom checkers for patient acquisition?

Symptom checkers can function as a patient acquisition tool in all sorts of organizations. From health systems, medical centers, and hospitals to insurance companies and medical content portals, they can guide users to preferred services.

Take, for example, the International Medical Center in Saudi Arabia. This private hospital uses digital tools to gain a competitive advantage that helps them to reach out to a large group of foreigners in the country. People seeking medical support can use these tools to see the hospital’s services in multiple languages and without any registration.

Another example is PZU Zdrowie, a Polish healthcare provider that, among other services, provides health insurance. Visitors to the provider's web page can view available medical services before actually becoming a member.

Example: PZU Zdrowie invites visitors to use a self-check to learn which specialist type will be the best suited to their case. Translated automatically.
Example: PZU Zdrowie invites visitors to use a self-check to learn which specialist type will be the best suited to their case. Translated automatically. Image by Aga Więckowska.

From acquisition to retention

Data gathered by symptom checkers can drive marketers to build 360° campaigns oriented to patient and population needs. And there’s more.

Using symptom checkers empowers patients. With a symptom-checking tool, they feel more independent and informed in terms of when and how to take action for their symptoms. It also positively influences the quality of patient-doctor communication, as the patient is better prepared for the appointment. Symptom checkers data can be already loaded in the EHR and during the meeting, doctor and patient will have more time for building a relationship and determining appropriate treatment solutions. Additionally, symptom checkers can improve operational effectiveness—patients are provided with services adjusted to their specific needs so they don’t overuse EDs and instead go directly to the appropriate specialist.

As we learned from the Symptomate Survey over 80% of respondents would likely use it again. This indicates that symptom checkers like Symptomate are well received by users and will be a valuable future tool. Not only do symptom checkers give initial healthcare guidance, but they also have the potential to be used as patient engagement activators and part of patient retention strategies.

Inviting patients to run periodic checkups, analyze their relatives' health, or get discounts for recommendations are just examples of the ways they can be used to retain users.

Even in the case where users decide to postpone the visit or find another provider, they will already see the company as an innovative brand that supports their health by respecting their decisions. For those who pick a service for themselves, it proves its value and begins building trust, which can be a solid base for building long-term relationships.

Learn more about Infermedica’s technologies for initial health assessment and triage. Get in touch with our team.

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