Know Your Audience: HCPs Savvy Information Seeking Behaviors
HCP Desire for Short Form Content and the Rise of Mobile
Healthcare professionals and practitioners (HCPs), like all consumers, have transformed the ways they seek and access information, education and content to solve problems, fulfill educational needs, answer questions and fill knowledge gaps.
Typically, a major search engine is the first step to help reveal the most relevant and useful content to match an immediate need. A need for information resulting often before, during or immediately post patient encounter. Majorly, this first step takes place via a mobile device given its utility and close proximity.
Medical associations, specialty societies and publishers serving healthcare professionals and practitioners (HCPs) must be aware of the changes in behaviors, information-seeking practices and motivations for needing information and determine the preferred digital formats to accommodate their audiences’ needs and wants.
The Current Environment
Organic search is consistently the largest source of traffic for all medical-focused websites and digital content offerings because of the popularity of Google, Bing and other search engines. Interestingly, most organizations find their traffic remains anonymous (not logging in or tracked) and struggle to understand specific groups of users and know more concretely whether the audience is majorly patients and their families or their core HCP target audience.
Each of the major search engines enable users to quickly mine and find what they seek. Search engines are so effective because they bypass the laborious processes of site searching and often provide better and more relevant results.
In addition to the increase of major search engine use, HCPs have evolved in how they leverage search. They have moved beyond using a single word query string to strings of five or more words, often framed as a question containing specific medical terminology.
HCPs have learned the more concrete the query, the better the results will be and the faster they can get what they need.
What Research Demonstrates
- NIH published research demonstrates that when healthcare practitioners have only 10 minutes or less to answer a question, they rely on the internet to find an immediate answer. The survey found that 70% of HCPs search online daily. Challenges of access and available time drive them to the major search engines to find relevant results quickly and easily.
- Additional research demonstrates over half of HCPs (58%) state they seek information to support patient care several times per week, and most (68%) note they do this while the patient is waiting (NIH). As patient encounters become shorter, faster access and the ability to quickly consume is even more important.
- Additional research indicates the top motivators for internet search are concern for a patient (87%), realization of a knowledge gap (71%), urgency of the question (66%), verification of knowledge base (63%) and lastly, curiosity (60%) (Brassil, 2017).
- Over half of HCPs report they never or almost never perform content searches from online sources such as MEDLINE or PubMed, although 44% say they do so a few times per month (Brazil, 2017).
Challenges Resulting from Immediacy of Need
HCPs are also consumers and have become digitally savvy just like the majority of society. Most consumers of internet-based resources often trust what is represented on the first results page. The perception and opinion are that the results demonstrated are authoritative given they appear first and must be ranked high because others have found them of value. However, this is not always a reliable measure of authority or authenticity.
Limited time and a sense of urgency may be a risk; trusting content that may not be considered authoritative or research/practice supported is more widespread than one might think.
Authoritative medical information and content sources are regulated via guidelines and research standards and cite sources and disclaimers. The information and content is often in a research study format and long form report structure requiring significant time to consume. There are significant constraints and challenges if attempting to read long form content on a mobile device.
Despite the desire for authoritative and research-based content, non-authoritative resources (Wikipedia, YouTube as examples) tend to provide easier access with single topics and outcome/need to know highlights, whereas authoritative sources like PubMed contain in-depth studies in the form of research papers (Mikalef, 2017).
The choice of one or the other is highly dependent upon the immediacy of need and the time available for consumption.
Mobile as First Choice
Almost all (92%) HCPs report they have internet access, but 86% say it is restricted to one computer in the office (NIH, 2017).
As the predominant need to seek out information occurs before, during or after patient encounters, it is likely mobile devices will continue to majorly represent the primary access point. For some medical societies, associations and publishers, mobile access represents 40% or more of total traffic with most mobile traffic not logging-in.
The 40%+ remain unknown to the society, association or publisher and deeper relationships cannot be easily formed.
What to Do?
Society tends to follow a trusted process and appreciate it as it creates predictability. Maintaining processes that do not evolve to keep pace with changing behaviors can lead to stagnation, decreases in real and perceived value and eventually decrease the authoritative position of an association, society, publisher or company.
Any organization serving HCPs that seeks to maintain its relevance and authority must recognize the changes in HCP audience behaviors and needs and begin to evolve.
A new comprehensive strategy is necessary to evolve and adapt. A sustainable strategy maintains content development and publication standards but also recognizes that content must be alternatively presented in a variety of easily consumed and easily found formats which in turn offer deeper immersion into the longer form versions (when time permits). The creation of alternative formats increases workload but ensures constituency needs are met.
There are many moving parts and tactics that must comprise a strategic plan. Dedication and commitment to understanding changing behaviors will result in many benefits, including the preservation of credibility and authority, resonance with the audience that the organization understands them and wants to satisfy their needs, and ultimately allow the fulfillment of its mission helping to improve patient care and patient outcomes.
2040 Digital Can Help
2040 Digital can help you evolve to serve your audiences’ needs and desires. We work across a diverse set of medical societies, associations and publishers, deeply understand HCPs and bring to bear our years of deep experience in digital creation, management and consumption.