The Intake

Insights for those starting, managing, and growing independent healthcare practices

4 ways patients find doctors online

Where do patients find healthcare providers? Here are the top 4 places patients search for doctors and dentists online — and how to stand out.

Physician reading on his phone about where patients find doctors online

At a Glance

  • Patients often search online to find new healthcare providers, with the top places being Google, review sites like Healthgrades and WebMD, insurance provider directories, and social media.
  • To attract patients from online searches, providers should focus on search engine optimization, encourage patient reviews, keep insurance directory profiles up-to-date, and develop an engaging social media presence.
  • Tactics like using relevant keywords, claiming profiles, frequently updating information, asking for reviews, and creating social media content can help providers get found and stand out online.

Patients are often overwhelmed when looking for new healthcare providers — especially in competitive markets. As a result, they often turn to online resources to help them narrow down their options.

More than 3 in 4 patients (77%) look for doctors online often or sometimes according to Tebra’s 4th annual Patient Perspectives survey. Millennials topped the generational charts: 38% search online often, while 48% search online sometimes.

"Do you look online to find out about doctors, dentists, or medical care?" from Tebra's 4th annual Patient Perspectives report

Where are they searching? Here are the top 4 places patients search online for new doctors, dentists, and other healthcare providers — plus tips on attracting patients to your independent practice.

1. Google

Almost everything starts with a Google search — including your patients’ hunt for a new provider. Patients looking for new doctors or dentists might search broadly or use long-tail keywords to help narrow their results.

Broad keywords could include terms like:

  • Dentist
  • Chiropractor
  • Orthopedic surgeon
  • Eyeglasses

Even with generic keywords, Google prioritizes local results. So a patient who searches “dentist” and “dentist near me” will get similar results for both queries.

Long-tail keywords typically have 3 or more terms and pare down results to give patients exactly what they want. Here are a few examples:

  • Therapist accepting new patients
  • Doctor that accepts XYZ insurance
  • 5-star orthodontist near me
  • Dermatologist that offers Botox in San Francisco

How to capitalize on Google search results

To appear at the top of search engine results pages (SERPs), you should spend time on search engine optimization (SEO) or paid search engine marketing.

If you’re unfamiliar, SEO is a group of techniques that can improve your search rankings for specific keywords. There are wide-ranging SEO tactics, but here are a few that can make a difference in your search rankings.

  • Conduct keyword research: Research what terms your patients use to search for doctors in your specialty and incorporate them across your site. You can use Google’s free Google Ads Keyword Planner to discover search queries or opt for more advanced research tools like SEMRush or Ahrefs.
  • Add pertinent keywords throughout your site: Include them in page titles, headlines, and meta descriptions.
  • Claim your free Google Business Profile: Formerly Google My Business, your Google Business Profile provides essential information like your specialty, office hours, address, and photos. Take the time to claim yours and optimize your practice's Google Business Profile images.

2. Review sites

Independent third-party review sites have grown exponentially over the past few years. Now, 46% of patients use online reviews to help them choose a healthcare provider, according to Tebra’s Patient Perspectives survey.

It's vital to claim your provider profiles to update any incorrect information and protect your online reputation. ”

People use sites like Healthgrades, WebMD, Zocdoc, and even Yelp to look for top-notch doctors. It's vital to claim your provider profiles to update any incorrect information and protect your online reputation.

Some sites provide patients with information like outcomes, but many rely heavily on user reviews. The best way to attract patients from these sites? Ask your current patients for reviews.

How to attract patients from review sites

Getting noticed on these crowded platforms can be challenging, but here are some steps to help.

  • Claim your profiles: Claiming a bunch of profiles on different platforms can feel daunting. At the very least, ensure your name, address, hours, web URL, and specialties are all accurate. This should also help with your SEO.
  • Pick a few to focus on: There are too many review sites to be everywhere at once. Pick one or two to focus on.
  • Ask for reviews: Reviews are critical to independent practices’ success. Once you’ve narrowed down which platforms you’d like to put your energy into, start encouraging patient reviews. Send automated messages post-visit and offer incentives to encourage participation.

3. Online insurance directories

Many patients start with their online insurance directories, then lean on review sites to narrow down their options. In fact, 53% of patients say online insurance directories contribute to their doctor selection decision.

If you’re credentialed with insurance companies, make sure your listing is correct and updated in their directories to connect with new patients.

How to stand out in insurance directories

Different directories provide different levels of information. Many include short provider bios, a photo, specialties, and certifications. Some will include fuller profiles similar to what you’d see on review sites or even Google. The tricks to standing out?

  • Update profiles frequently: Ensure you keep your information updated with new certifications, licenses, and more. It’s also important to share that you’re accepting new patients.
  • Use keywords: Use the same keywords from your website in your bio and company profile on these directories.

4. Social media

Social media platforms have become frequent sources for healthcare reviews. Surprisingly, or perhaps unsurprisingly, 26% of Gen Z and 22% of Millennials go to Facebook to find doctor reviews.

Social media sites also present opportunities to engage with patients by sharing health tips and answering common questions.

Attract new patients with social media

Social media is a marketing channel on its own, but much of the advice for other channels applies. Pick 1 or 2 platforms to focus on, but make sure to claim your practice’s name across the major platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, TikTok, and YouTube.

  • Decide on your strategy: What will you share on social media? Pick pillars or topics to organize your content that you can use repeatedly, like health tip Tuesdays, get to know your healthcare team, or testimonials.
  • Focus on storytelling: Spend time breaking down complex ideas and engaging with your patients. Social media is a great way to start conversations.
  • Don’t forget to entertain: Have a little fun with social media. Use visuals (Canva is a great tool for easy graphics) or jump on appropriate trends.

Bonus: What patients want from new providers

New patients ultimately want a doctor or dentist who’s empathetic, thorough, and delivers great patient outcomes. But even with a litany of reviews, that’s hard to judge at first glance. Here are some other factors patients evaluate when searching for a provider:

  • Appointment availability
  • Open and easy communication
  • A welcoming staff
  • Short wait times
  • Online access to medical records
  • Online appointment booking
  • Telehealth options

Though there are solutions that provide such features individually, selecting a platform that offers them together can be a way to take your practice to the next level.

Access the free report
Tebra recently surveyed 1,200+ people nationwide to get an inside look at how patients find and pick their doctors.
Discover how patients find and choose their doctors
Patient Perspectives Report

You Might Also Be Interested In

How patients find and pick their doctors. We surveyed more than 1,200 patients nationwide to understand factors that influence how they choose a doctor and why they keep coming back. Download the free report.

Subscribe to The Intake:
A weekly check-up for your independent practice

Written by

Lauren Wheeler, BCPA, MD

Dr. Lauren Wheeler, MD, BCPA, is a former family medicine physician who currently works as an independent healthcare advocate as well as a medical editor and writer. You can get in touch with her about anything writing or advocacy at her website

Get expert tips, guides, and valuable insights for your healthcare practice