What Search Behavior During Covid-19 Means for Healthcare Marketers

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This post is the latest in our “Commerce and Coronavirus” series. It will be an editorial focus for the month of April, and you can see the rest of the series here.

The headlines are everywhere. Open any newspaper, and you’ll see story after story about coronavirus and its impact on American society. But new data on consumer search behavior shows Covid-19 isn’t the only healthcare topic on people’s minds right now.

In an analysis of consumer search trends during the coronavirus pandemic, a team from the healthcare provider scheduling and search platform Kyruus found that search terms seemingly unrelated to Covid-19, such as “diabetes,” “cancer,” and “depression,” continue to rank more highly than those associated with the virus.

“It is something that health systems should be aware of,” says Kyruus’ Genny Gordon. “The needs of those with chronic conditions and mental health needs cannot wait, and timely access to care is just as important for these patients.”

Looking at consumer searches facilitated through Kyruus’ platform, Gordon was able to see trends in how consumers search for coronavirus care and their independent healthcare needs. Despite a surge in coronavirus-related searches—and in particular, a 125% increase in the total number of searches for coronavirus and related symptoms in the last month—Kyruus’ analysis found that consumers’ other healthcare needs have not gone away during the pandemic.

Terms like “behavioral health,” “depression,” and “anxiety” continued to rank among the top 20 search terms in February and March, despite a sharp rise in coronavirus-related search, underscoring the importance for healthcare systems of maintaining access to care for people with chronic conditions.

Kyruus is not the only company keeping an eye on search trends during the coronavirus pandemic. According to data from Google, Covid-19-related searches have become the most popular searches on its platform, exceeding searches about weather, politics, and even porn.

Within the healthcare system, specifically, search trends can play a role in shaping provider outreach and digital strategy. As Gordon explains, many health systems have already started updating their homepages and launching Covid-19-specific social media campaigns. Microsites devoted to the topic of Covid-19 have also become a popular option for organizations that want to educate patients about their options for accessing care. Gordon says healthcare systems should consider how new types of digital technology can support these efforts. For example, hospitals may want to implement virtual assistants to triage website visitors and guide them to the right resources for care.

“It’s important that these digital strategies clearly speak to the different patient segments seeking care, so patients can understand what their access options are and how to go about securing appointments – whether they are looking for Covid-19 testing sites, seeking care for a chronic condition, or dealing with an acute issue,” Gordon says.

Covid-19 has forced many healthcare organizations to pivot their strategies to engage patients as consumers of healthcare and information, and Gordon says she believes we’ll see health systems iterate on these investments in their digital presence and take steps to integrate their digital front doors more cohesively.

“Consumers are searching for care in Google, and the search engine has responded by making various updates, including beginning to roll out new features in Search and Maps to connect to virtual healthcare options,” Gordon says. “As digital tactics evolve, the long-term impact here is health systems will need to keep investing in their digital strategies to remain competitive and do so in a way that delivers a connected consumer experience.”

As health systems adjust their digital strategies to look beyond their owned digital properties, they will need to ensure their up-to-date information appears in search engines so that patients can get accurate information from the get-go in their online searches.

“As hospitals and health systems look to respond to some of the trends by increasing the ways consumers can interact with their organization and seek care, it will be important to link access channels and provide clear direction to minimize friction in the patient journey to care,” Gordon says. “Another big opportunity area exists in leveraging technology in new ways to meet the demands of the crisis. For example, virtual assistants can help triage patients while also taking pressure off of call centers so agents can focus on non-Covid access and outreach.”

Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.Rainbow over Montclair

Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.