As a healthcare marketer, you've just logged into a local or healthcare directory site, where consumers browse for physicians who practice nearby. On your desk sits a great pile of research about your doctor's career and capabilities. On your screen, a collection of “new entry" text boxes stares back at you, waiting for inspiration to strike.

Now what? Just inserting a name, specialty, and phone number won't differentiate your provider from dozens of competing entries on the same site. How do you prioritize the details of an entire medical career into a few compelling paragraphs — or even sentences — that attract the interest of consumers looking for a new doctor?

Because healthcare consumers are looking, and they are looking online. One out of three consumers are “in the market" for a new doctor or healthcare center and 25% of them find one via online research, according to a survey by Valassis Communications.

So what, exactly, do prospective patients want to see when they study those listings? For insight into their thinking, we analyzed data from several recent consumer surveys, plus the “how to choose a doctor" web pages of top influencers.

For most people, the provider's level of expertise is top priority. 84% cited “a physician's knowledge and abilities" as “extremely" or “very" influential in deciding whether to keep their current doctor or switch to another one, according to a survey of 488 “everyday healthcare consumers" by the staffing agency Weatherby Healthcare.

This may prove even more important when seeking out a specialist, who often works with complex or difficult cases. In fact, board certifications for specialist pop up frequently as a desired criteria. Consumer Reports recommends that its readers visit the American Board of Medical Specialties' website Certification Matters to see if a particular doctor has the right credentials.

Listing Tip: Save your potential customers a trip to another website — and keep them focused on your message — by including any relevant certifications right on the directory page.

No matter how strong the reputation, customers need to know if they can afford to see the doctor in the first place. More than half — 51% — cited in-network availability as “critical" and 27% as “very important" in the Weatherby survey. A closely related factor, out-of-pocket costs, came in at 34% critical and 41% important.

Listing Tip: Don't just list the doctor's insurance affiliations. Also promote any available discount programs, payment options, or other financial tools for budget-conscious consumers.

Soft Factors
Intangible qualities as age, gender, and bedside manner can also move the needle for some consumers.

For instance, 23% of women “strongly prefer" a female doctor, according to Weatherby. For men, however, only 9% felt the same about male doctors.

The data on attitudes toward age are inconclusive and appear to vary by specialty. Midwest Orthopedics reports that 63% preferred a surgeon who is no older than 65, possibly due to concerns about the deteriorating surgical skills of elderly doctors. On the other hand, Aesthetic Surgery Journal lists surgeon age as one of the least important criteria. Consumers closely link age with experience, according to Weatherby.

Midwest Orthopedics prioritized “friendliness and bedside manner" just below insurance, with “appearance/atmosphere of clinic facilities" not far behind. One out of four are likely to switch primary care physicians if they find a new one with “a more positive attitude," according to Weatherby.

Blue Cross/Blue Shield goes so far as to suggest that customers hold a “face-to-face meeting" to see if they feel comfortable with the doctor and staff. You can help build a personal connection before that first visit by creating more engaging physician bios.

Aside from promoting individual providers, also highlight the setting. Of Weatherby respondents, 18% cited the office's, practice's, or healthcare facility's capabilities as critical, with 43% calling it important.

Most people don't want to drive more than 30 minutes to visit a provider. Weatherby respondents noted “convenient location" at 23% critical and 48% important. WebMD even recommends checking the availability of parking or public transportation.

Listing Tip: Does your doctor have lab, imaging, or other equipment assets on-site or within a short distance of the office? Note the most important ones, including any state-of-the-art equipment.

Bottom Line
No two doctors, directory sites, or healthcare consumers are exactly alike. Middle-aged stockbrokers seeking a highly trained specialist will browse differently from young parents in the market for a family practice physician. Use your patient data to prioritize the specific criteria and develop the individualized content that will turn your listings into a goldmine of new customers.

And after you've done the hard work of making your offsite listings as compelling and engaging as possible, make sure your efforts aren't going to waste by enlisting a directory listings management solution to help you manage updates, address changes, and more. And be sure to include all this valued information on your own website and provider directories, along with consumer-generated content like provider reviews, which can help you earn more credibility and visibility online.

Learn more about how listings management plays a crucial role in online search rankings in our Local Search Best Practices eBook.