Got a cough you just can’t kick? Or a nagging ache in your knee? What’s your first move?

If you’re like most Americans, your initial inquiry into your potential health ailment would begin with the launch of an internet browser. In fact, 66% of U.S. adults report relying heavily on search engines to provide them with links to answers for any number of health questions. Although large and growing, this figure shouldn’t surprise you. Whether you’re looking for the best orthopedic surgeon in town or for potential side effects of a prescription your doctor is recommending, your first step is likely to be firing up your favorite search engine on your computer or mobile device and doing some research.

The trend toward search engine reliance has drastically changed the healthcare experience for both patients and providers alike. In the past, a patient would go to a doctor complaining of this or that, while forgetting to mention certain more chronic symptoms that seemed unrelated to their most pressing malady. Similarly, doctors would have likely needed to make inferences and ask questions to elicit more information from their patients. Today, however, patients enter the doctor’s office armed with vast amounts of information that they’ve pulled from various internet sources. This has allowed them to become more vigilant in their own health care, if not borderline Hypochondriacal.

What This Means

The challenge here is that many hospitals and health systems try to operate search engine optimization (SEO) and social media in-house or through an agency with little to no SEO credentials.

In fact, most companies that attempt to conduct an internal SEO campaign miss an average of 27 components that could have increased their search rankings.

This fundamental change in the individual’s experience with health care gives way to a great opportunity for providers to capture the attention of their target audience from initial inquiry to the moment where they decide which doctor to see or the hospital to select.

Healthcare marketers today are tasked with increasing search engine optimization while simultaneously developing or enhancing their advertising and marketing presence via high-traffic websites and social media.

That’s right, roughly 60% of Americans surveyed indicate that they’d like to receive news and information on medical conditions and treatments though social media outlets.

Currently, the advertising and marketing presence by hospitals and health systems on website like or Mayo Health’s Symptom Checker, which both receive tens of millions of visitors a year, pales in comparison to the overwhelming presence of pharmaceuticals and miracle diets.

The Opportunity

The opportunity available for healthcare providers to reach their target audience via is greater than ever before. From the moment the individual engages in their quest for information through when they’ve determined an appropriate course of action, healthcare providers have a myriad of opportunities to convey their message and value proposition to their target audience when they’re in the most responsive frame of mind.

So what should hospitals and health systems to do in the highly specialized and ever changing environment they find themselves in today?

A good first step would be to identify a partner with a record of producing integrated campaigns that are rooted in testing to ensure sustainable improvements over long periods of time. Also, because of the ever changing nature of the healthcare environment, the ideal partner would place a high priority on strategy and research, while having a thorough understanding of the history and complexities of the healthcare industry.