The Secret Patient Conversion Killer Hiding on Your Website

How One Change Boosted Online Appointments by 300%

Math and I never got along very well when I was a kid. I scraped by but found it difficult to get excited about the subject: a fact that my grades reflected.

As an adult I’ve found a genuine enthusiasm for numbers (particularly in spreadsheets) and have developed a better understanding of why little kid Marc didn’t care. It turns out I need the numbers to be connected to something that matters. 

In junior high math class the concepts were abstract and equations were solved because that’s what the teachers demanded of us.

As a healthcare marketer I’ve got numbers that I can connect to things that I care about deeply.

Numbers like Return on Ad Spend (RoAS) that can help me to keep my job and justify next year’s marketing budget.

Numbers like conversion rates from specific sections of my funnel that tell me where and when patients are having a hard time getting past a step.

Tara Nooteboom, UC Irvine’s Director of Consumer Digital Strategy said:

“If you can’t track users across your digital journey, it’s hard to evaluate return on any one aspect of the journey.”

Those two sets of numbers alone, when combined, tell a story and turn math into something you can use to make a very real difference in the lives of the people you serve.

I’ve spent a lot of time investigating lower-than-expected RoAS rates and find the same two culprits again and again:

  1. A hard-to-use doctor finder with an appointment scheduling tool that doesn’t think about what the patient wants
  2. Phone calls being handled by physician’s offices that don’t know why the patient is calling or how to help them. Or don’t answer the phone at all.

Since I’m only trying to write an article here and not a whole book, I’m only going to address the first subject.

A good doctor finder gets out of the way of what a patient wants to do: find a provider and schedule an appointment with them.

A bad doctor finder tanks your marketing conversion rates, prevents you from growing referrals, and destroys a potential patient’s trust in your organization before they ever step into one of your buildings.

If your digital tools leave your users frustrated or confused or hunting for documents, those users will likely give up. The best case scenario is that they pick up the phone but the more likely case is that they’ll go to a competitor’s website or just put off scheduling the appointment until it is an emergency. Something as simple as a few too many form fields or a slow-loading page can drive away people that need care. People that you have spent money and effort into identifying, segmenting, and driving to your website with ads and partnerships.

People that want to book an appointment right now but are left feeling like they can’t.

Which maybe raises a couple of questions. First, how big of a deal is this really? Surely a sufficiently motivated site visitor will push through the clunky-but-functional scheduling tool your EMR vendor offers, right? Second, why should I listen to anything this article says?

The answer to both of those questions lies in another number that I really (really) care about. One of our clients (they’re one of the largest and most prestigious health systems in the country) moved from their EMR-provided tool (Epic Open Scheduling) to Sparkle. Within six months of the move, with the same providers and the same appointment availability, this client saw almost a 300% increase in appointments scheduled online.

The only thing that changed was the user experience.

They moved from a tool that made users think to a tool that removes obstacles and puts effort into making things easy.

If you dig into that 300% increase, you’ll find cost savings, marketing-attributable revenue growth, and happier patients.

Another client received lots of positive feedback from their patients after launching Sparkle but this email was printed out and taped to the wall:

“I've tried to book appointments with other clinics, and it's always such a mess. This online tool actually worked! Finally, healthcare that makes sense.”

I’m not doing the hard work of ‘removing complexity’ but I’m often there to see the end results in in-person user testing or in the raw conversion data. Here are the things that we know matter:

  • Usability matters: your tool should emphasize intuitive design, keep advanced search tools accessible but unobtrusive, make sure everything looks amazing on mobile devices
  • The search experience should be based on how users actually search, not opaque specialties and service lines put in place by a clinical committee. Test your tools with layperson terms
  • The first set of returned results should reflect as much as you know about the visitor with as little of their input as possible: did they get referred by a specific service line ad group? Where are they searching from? Are they more likely to prioritize available appointments (primary care) or depth of expertise (oncology)?
  • Online open scheduling is the key to conversion: put available appointments in front of site visitors at every available opportunity. Syndicate them into Google search packs. Aggregate them on location and service line pages. Put them front and center in the doctor finder search results. Be ready to say “YES!” as soon as a site visitor thinks, “I wonder if this doctor has any open appointments?”
  • Slight revision: EASY online open scheduling is the key to conversion. When someone decides they want to schedule an appointment don’t make them go looking for their insurance card or their patient portal login information. Choose a platform that does the heavy lifting in the background.

When I’m beginning an assessment of a hospital’s provider finder, I’ll often start with a simple two-step process. Try it on your website and let me know how it goes using the form below!

  1. Enter a vague search term. I like “heart situation” which is something a patient typed in during an in-person user testing session over a decade ago. Did your website return the right set of providers?
  2. Put on your patient hat and see how quickly you can find and schedule an appointment. Pretend you don’t have a patient portal account or your insurance card handy. Go all the way through the scheduling process and watch out for moments where you feel frustrated, angry, or confused.

A tightly-optimized set of doctor discovery and appointment scheduling tools can be the most important part of your patient acquisition funnel. It can provide the connective tissue between your marketing campaigns and real downstream conversion events. It can preemptively improve patient satisfaction and retention. It can lower your cost per acquisition and give you the data to prove it.

Improving your doctor finder and scheduling tools isn't just about technology; it's about patient experience. It demonstrates respect for patients' time, creates a sense of trust, and most importantly, improves health outcomes. When people can easily connect with the care they need, the equation for success becomes clear. (Math joke…)

Get in touch with us to learn more about Sparkle