How hospitals should engage in the 'information war'

A report out this week from Boston Digital examines the role that original digital libraries of health topics can play in hospitals’ web-traffic performance.  

Among the top 20 U.S. hospitals, as ranked by U.S. News & World Report, 68% of all search traffic comes purely from health information content, said the report.  

“Hospital sites with comprehensive health content libraries are earning exponentially more traffic than those without them,” wrote Philip Chevalier, director of strategy and research, in the report.  


Chevalier notes that health-related searches, especially around conditions and symptoms, make up a substantial share of all Google searches – about 7% even before the COVID-19 pandemic.  

In recent years, Google has trained its algorithms to favor more reputable sources about disease, conditions and treatments, instead of alarmist sites that can make patients fear the worst.  

“The result is a landscape that gives us medical information via search from high-authority healthcare providers,” wrote Chevalier.  

“What this means is that Google is in the market for medical content from websites that users can trust. In a world with only so many authoritative healthcare brands, those who can step up to the plate should,” he added.  

Given that shifted algorithm, Chevalier notes that two types of hospitals have emerged: Those who are providing high-quality patient education on their websites, and those who aren’t.

“The former group is reaping massive rewards in the forms of traffic and exposure while the latter group, the group who relies almost purely on a mix of branded and end-of-funnel search traffic, lags far behind,” he said.  

When it comes to what makes digital health content libraries successful in terms of attracting traffic, Chevalier outlines three criteria. They should be:

  • comprehensive
  • original 
  • available on the hospital’s top-level domain  

Chevalier notes the advantages of increased patient traffic are manifold. Hospitals can gather data based on digital behavior and content consumption, as well as potentially monetizing via advertisements or patient acquisition efforts.

“Top-performing hospitals are also, one can assume, benefiting from higher patient conversions via digital channels by supporting this content, as well as reaping various indirect benefits that arise from the underscored credibility of being a trusted purveyor of valuable health information,” he wrote.

“Think about the lifetime patient value for hospitals who consistently reach patients during these critical moments, versus that of hospitals who don’t,” he added.  


Amid the disinformation that has hampered messaging around the COVID-19 pandemic, major health systems and software companies have teamed up to try and provide accurate resources for patients.

YouTube, for instance, partnered with Mass General Brigham, the American Public Health Association and other organizations earlier this summer to publish evidence-based content.  

“In our increasingly digital world, the next phase in health communication is video, where healthcare professionals can connect with patients and answer their questions in a way that is both visual and personal,” said Dr. Garth Graham, director and global head of healthcare and public health at YouTube, in a statement at the time.  


“While top-tier digital performance doesn’t necessarily imply top-tier quality of care or vice versa … the elevated status of being a top-tier healthcare provider now comes with the opportunity to achieve outsized digital performance at scale – one which did not exist until recently,” said Chevalier.

Kat Jercich is senior editor of Healthcare IT News.
Twitter: @kjercich
Email: [email protected]
Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.

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