The health care industry is well known to lag behind other industries when it comes to marketing by about two years. Between HIPAA compliance regulations that dictate how patient information is used and stored and FDA restrictions that put a microscope on how a lot of health care organizations market their products, it can be scary to adapt to changing marketing trends in such a heavily regulated industry.

However, Rafael Lugo, a general surgeon in Houston, is working to change that tendency by helping other doctors reach and engage today's tech-savvy patients and physicians through digital marketing. From his experience, Lugo says, digital marketing is no longer optional for hospitals and practices, insurance providers, pharmaceutical companies, medical device manufacturers, or other organizations in the health care space.

According to a recent study by Epocrates and other device manufacturers, 96 percent of physicians own smartphones and between 56 percent and 76 percent own tablets. Multiple studies have shown in-house physician smartphone use at approximately 80 percent.

Likewise, recent research reveals that more than 80 percent of physicians are using general browsers, Lugo says. "They are using search engines, like Google, in diagnosis, treatment, and ongoing care," he said. "Also, patients are using it to find and engage with health care organizations, which is why digital marketing is critical for the survival of a physician's practice." 

According to a Think With Google study, 84 percent of patients use both online and offline sources for hospital research. Likewise, search engines drive nearly three times as many visitors to hospital sites compared with nonsearch visitors, and 44 percent of patients who research hospitals on a mobile device schedule an appointment.

"It is impossible to build a successful strategy without the right online content," Lugo said. "To succeed in today's developing health care industry, physicians and hospital groups need to constantly produce new content that not only gets them found but also enables them to capture leads for new patients." 

From blog posts to social media updates, videos, e-books, webinars, and more, you need to publish content that will get you found online by the search engines and social media channels your target audience uses to learn about health care services and products. "From my perspective as a doctor," Lugo said, "I saw a great void in the digital marketing space for physicians, so now I am actively helping other doctors and health care organizations use these tools to find the patients in an economical way by simply providing worthwhile content and strong branding in their marketplace. It truly is a win-win for the patient and physician." 

While there is a long way to go, digital marketing seems to be changing even the most stable industries. Which industry will be disrupted next?

Published on: Jun 22, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.