Healthcare websites are dependably complicated. From finding providers to searching for locations, customers are forced to dig around a growing bevy of care options. To simplify the customer experience, a modern approach to onsite search is needed.
The rigid search tools of old are just that – outdated. Customers expect to effortlessly find what they need. And establishing a connection with a customer – at the onset of a visit – starts with a search.
Healthcare search is broken
A chasm separates good and poor search experiences. Modern search gives customers the control to pinpoint care. And a poor search experience leads to dead ends and frustration.
Today’s customers are conditioned to search. And they expect a single search bar to interpret complex queries and to return actionable results.
After decades of Google — and its ability to understand and present data — customers encounter search everywhere they go on the Internet. From travel to real estate websites, industries have embraced search as the go-to, call-to-action to capture customers. Yet, on healthcare websites, search is often hidden, broken, and only used to find articles.
Not until a customer self-selects to “find a doctor” or “find a location” does a prominent search experience appear, and even then, functionality is lackluster. Without fail the search applications powering most healthcare websites are rigid, and rarely match relevant results to customer queries.
Customers want a simple experience to solve problems, and healthcare websites can’t rely on low-grade search capabilities.
Taking a lesson from e-commerce
E-commerce, a fiercely customer-centric industry, is constantly working to reduce digital friction. If a customer searches for “men’s red polka dot XL shirt available near me” the results will be real-time and match the desired characteristics, such as color, size, and availability. That level of personalization is possible with healthcare, where a search for “Spanish speaking female family doctor in capitol hill” returns localized family care options, filtered by the next available appointment.
Digital excellence is the livelihood of e-commerce. While it’s not a one-to-one comparison, both sectors have the customer at heart, and producing relevant results is critical to success.
Upgrading the search experience
More care options are welcome. But more options often add steps to the customer journey. Smart search is the bridge. Prior to building in-house or selecting a software provider, consider the following capabilities.
Long-Tail Search: A search engine is only as good as its ability to capture intent. Most common applications can handle exact queries, like a doctor’s name or a specific condition. But when a customer searches for “where to find the nearest flu shot,” most applications deliver zero results. Effective search should be capable of exact and long-tail queries, and return results.
Natural language: Customers enter a wide array of questions and terms using plain language. Modern search is able to understand natural language — speaking rather than entering keywords — with the accuracy to surface relevant results. Natural language processing uses machine learning models to infer meaning to match results with precision.
Error Tolerance: Healthcare is loaded with complex terms, conditions, names, and locations. A simple misspelling likely returns no results, shutting the digital door on the customer. A search application should never return zero results. Instead, it should offer suggestions, alternatives, and avenues that narrow the gap between purpose and action.
Synonyms: Customers search for medical symptoms and conditions. Even if they use words and descriptions that don’t match a specialty, smart algorithms can decipher intent. For example, the algorithm should understand that searches for sinus infections or nose pain ladder up to Ear Nose, and Throat providers.
Elements to successful search results
How to display results is as essential as processing questions. Keep in mind the following best practices:
Badges: It’s important that badges accompany provider or location results, letting the customer know why each result appears. If a user searches for “family medicine,” provider profiles should highlight the keyword or phrases searched for. It’s a visual cue that the result is a match.
Real-time results: Smart search solutions enable well-sorted results. For example, health systems can opt to only feature results by the next available appointment. By using multi-layered and intelligent caching, availability can be sorted and filtered, ensuring only available time slots are displayed.
Location, location, location: Showcasing results based on granular location provides a more personalized experience. Customers can immediately view providers in their area or a neighborhood that they are familiar with.
Faceted Results: Customers will quickly leave if they don’t discover relevant results on the first page. Faceted search gives users the tools to filter and narrow down the results. From insurance, availability, locations, gender and locations, filters enable customers to specify what they’re looking for.
Moving search from obscurity to prominence
A digital front door is a modern approach to bridge customers with on-demand care. It’s a way to make sure each step is working in concert to deliver digital excellence and improve the patient experience. For new and returning customers, everything they need must be accessible, relevant, and work to simplify an undeniably complex process.
Done right, search reduces steps, and frustration, and instantly pairs customers with the right type of care. It’s time to re-think what’s possible with search – moving the feature out from the shadows, and into digital prominence.
About Madison Miner
Madison Miner is CEO of WompHealth, a frontend platform that modernizes the patient experience. Madison has more than 20 years of software engineering experience and is relentless about finding creative ways to combine rich functionality with performance to reduce customer friction. An eCommerce veteran, Madison is focused on placing the customer at the center of the digital front door.