An outdated or even non-existent listing can result in a loss of business or a dissatisfied customer. But as competition for online discovery intensifies among healthcare providers and facilities, weak location data is not only debilitating to their business, but it can also mean that patients don’t receive the best care possible.

Last month, location data management platform Yext introduced a special product designed to help local doctors, hospitals, and wellness facilities be more readily — and accurately — be found online by patients near them.

In its diagnosis of the medical industry’s location crisis, Yext For Healthcare, as the offering is called, analyzed 1,800 physician and healthcare facilities across 15,000 listings in which and found that:

  • 5 percent of doctors’ and hospitals didn’t even have an online, local listing. That’s 3.6x greater than the unlisted percentage of other businesses (8.68 percent).
  • Of the listed healthcare facilities, 48 percent contained basic address errors that could result in misdirected patients.
  • 29 percent of healthcare facilities were also missing accurate phone numbers.

Yext For Healthcare is being managed by Marc Ferrentino, EVP of Strategy at Yext [Full disclosure: Yext is GeoMarketing’s parent company. More details here.]. Ferrentino notes that the growth of mobility and the Internet of Things, combined with vast regulatory changes, are changing the way patients record and seek out medical help. To meet those changes, wellness professionals need a location check-up immediately.

GeoMarketing: What’s the need for Yext For Healthcare?

Marc Ferrentino: Healthcare is one of the most important industries and it’s getting more important every day as our population ages. Combined with mobile, the marketing of healthcare is becoming more important.

What are the trends in the Healthcare industry that are changing how patients are being marketed to?

There are three major trends in healthcare that are changing marketing in this industry.

The first trend is the continued consolidation of practices and health systems. With the introduction of the Affordable Care Act health systems now have even more reason to consolidate in order to drive cost out of the system and take advantage of government subsidiaries.   So instead of the classic picture that everyone has of his or her general practitioner in a small office of maybe one or two physicians — and that’s it. We’re moving now into a world where doctors are coming together as part of health systems . Those health systems are then able to have multi-discipline, multi-specialty base groups where it’s a one-stop shop.

The second trend is around the marketing funnel in healthcare.   The patient journey now starts with the search of a symptom or a specialty online and ends with booking an appointment.   This process predominately takes place with search via your desktop of mobile phone.   If you are not represented correctly on the Internet you are not being found by patients in need.

The third trend is the shift from a physician oriented marketing to health system oriented marketing.   The change to a holistic health system approach to care created greater emphasis on promoting the systems brand versus the physician’s brand.   This means that health systems need to focus on the branding and marketing of the organization and create as many points of entry for patients to discover the system.

What will those one-stop-shops look like and what will the impact be?

As I said, the government significantly accelerated the consolidation with the ACA subsidies. What that’s now creating is these larger health groups that have not just two, three physicians, but also now thousands — 10,000 physicians, 20,000 physicians throughout these massive networks and organizations. The idea is that they help you through every aspect of your health journey, whether you need a pediatrician, an ophthalmologist, an oncologist, or a cardiologist. They’ve got you covered, and it’s one smooth patient experience all the way through.

Of course, the byproduct of that amazing experience is that there will be some savings for both networks and consumers, particularly in the case of not having to repeat blood tests and other redundant procedures. It should cut out the waste of having to go for an MRI every time you see a different doctor within the same period.

How will that consolidation change the way patients find doctors?

Typically, people find doctors through their healthcare provider, their insurance company. Also, people have typically discovered physicians through referrals, word-of-mouth, and maybe media reports such as US News and New York Magazine. That was the traditional way.

By consolidating the marketing into a single set within a facility, you’re exposed to a smaller number of people you have to talk to. It’s also because of the consolidation of the doctors, the marketing budgets will get larger. Now, these organizations can afford to bring in professional marketers. Professional marketers, obviously, have a much larger purview of what’s possible and what they can do to help the patient experience.

That is now a new thing that didn’t really exist on a mass scale before. And that brings us to the big other trend that we’re seeing: health searches have skyrocketed. About 95 percent of health searches are “nearby searches.”

That makes sense. Most people do not want to travel far from where they live or work when they have a medical problem.

Right. Another statistic we’ve noticed was that 77 percent of prospective patients used search prior to booking their appointments. It’s not something that people think a lot about. But the internet is how people find their doctors. And we’ve been able to track those changes. For example, people usually start the search at the top of the funnel based on an ailment. Roughly 88 percent of all healthcare searches are what they call “unbranded searches,” which tend to be symptom-based searches.

Recently, we did a research project of our own to see what the state of healthcare listings are. We looked at 1,800 facilities that contained 15,000 listings. We saw that 32 percent of the organizations that we looked at were missing doctors. In other words, these facilities weren’t updated to include the doctors in their network or health system — they simply aren’t visible to patients doing a search. They’re gone, they don’t exist. We then asked, “How does this compare to other verticals?”

We looked at the average across all the other non-healthcare customers. The average is actually as far as missing listings is about around 8 percent. So the healthcare space is looking about 3.5 times worse situation.

What accounts for that tremendous disparity?

Nobody was looking at this. There weren’t any central market organizations for healthcare companies to make sure that the doctor’s information was correctly updated online. The doctors were busy being doctors, not busy messing around with their listings. They’re busy helping people, curing ailments, making people live a better life. How could they possibly be worried about the details of internet marketing?

Now there are people who care, and there are organizational structures that care. For the first time over the last year we’ve seen that massive spike in interest from healthcare providers, which is one of the reasons why we’ve decided to come out with a product purposely built for them based on the issues they’re having in the space.

In addition to showcasing the up-to-date listings of particular practitioners and specialists, these larger healthcare networks are also highlighting notable doctors that have a following. How does that change the marketing equation for online search and discovery?

That’s the other side of it. Now, that we have this world where doctors who have achieved highly regarded reputation will join a health system. A lot of times, patients will find the health system first. Then, they’ll use these “star doctors” or specific doctors who have great reputations as reasons to drive patients into that specific health system.

They’re the supermodels, the rock stars of the healthcare industry. They should all be rock stars, but there are some that stand out. Those doctors will drive a lot of patient interest and drive a lot of positive attention for the health systems themselves.

In many cases, these health systems will do their best to recruit the best doctors. When those best doctors do come in, obviously, they want to make sure that that doctor is fully represented on the internet. Their identity has been managed on the internet to ensure that they’re listed under that new health system. A lot of times you’ll see scenarios where that doctor will still be listed under the old health system with the old name and number, the old address. For the organization that brought that doctor over, it’s a very frustrating thing, which is why the real-time nature of what we do is so important. As soon as that doctor comes over, you put the information into the system, you hit the button, and all that information across the internet is updated. That’s the core nature of it.

Does the emergence of star physicians present any marketing challenges to the health systems they represent?

There is this amount of movement of doctors between health systems. The real time nature of the system, making sure that duplicates are suppressed, things of that nature are crucial, as important, if not the most important industry to have those features in. That’s where I think Yext is uniquely positioned to basically deliver the ad responsiveness that’s required in healthcare.

Compared to the services Yext offers to other marketing categories, such as Quick Serve Restaurants to retail, how is healthcare different?

What’s unique about healthcare is the data structures are different than QSR or retail. You’re not highlighting your associates in retail. Obviously, in healthcare you are. Healthcare is a multi-dimensional structure, where you go the hospital itself and then, within that, the multiple departments such as oncology, obstetrics, orthopedics, all of which are distinct. You want those to be listed too. You want to make sure those departments are front and center.

Let’s say you only have your hospital listed. And let’s say someone was looking for an orthopedist in an area of Bangor, Maine. Your orthopedics department inside your hospital may not come up. Now, if you have those individual departments listed, all of a sudden, during that discovery process, you have a higher chance of being found by a person searching for that service.

Secondly, if someone is looking for a doctor with a specific specialty in a certain area, the listing can focus on detailed credentials and backgrounds, which we can make searchable. Those are areas that while the core Yext location engine that still sits underneath it all, these are new net structures and new ways of looking at the information and how it gets placed on the internet.

In addition to the changes driven by the Affordable Care Act, do you think the rise of health & wellness related apps on Internet of Things devices like Fitbit and the Apple Watch will also have an impact on the way patients connect to care facilities and physicians?

It’s funny you mention it. I think eventually it will. We’re in the infancy of health tech. People are just warming up to the idea that you’re constantly being monitored to make sure that you’re optimizing all aspects of your health.

At some point in time, as this health tech gets smart enough to direct us and to tell us where to go somewhere based on something that’s happening to us. “Hey, you’re about to have a heart attack. You need to go to a hospital.”

Making sure that that hospital information is accurate and accessible for any of those pieces of technology is going to be a life or death situation. Think of having that information at the fingertips of all these health tech apps, being as accurate as possible, so that you have the fastest way to get there, the fastest route, and you have the best understanding of what’s around you.

And it’s not just going to your doctor. It’s going to any doctor that is within a certain distance of you. As we feed that information into mapping solutions, into Apple Maps, Google Maps, MapQuest, you name it, that’s going to be pretty important. That’s going to be extremely important.