It’s official. I’ve joined the ranks of those device-addled people for whom one form of media is simply not enough. I came to this realization one evening as I toggled between email on my phone, shopping on my iPad and catching up on Netflix – all while sitting next to my husband as he did the same thing. Though I may find this sudden inability to unplug troubling, new research shows I’m not alone. In today’s multi-screen world, our devices accompany us everywhere – acting as both companion and advisor. And while this brave new digital world may be eroding the art of conversation, new evidence suggests it’s making us better consumers – and patients.

For example, a recent Digitas Health survey found that patients who use smartphones in their doctor’s office are 80 percent more likely to switch medications and twice as likely to ask for a brand name. A separate study reveals that 38 percent of smartphone users say their device is “essential” for finding health and medical information.

Patients aren’t just getting their information from websites either. According to Digitas, nine out of 10 patients would use an app recommended by a physician. And “power users” – those with both a smartphone and a tablet – are 30 percent more likely to talk to a doctor about a mobile site or app and twice as likely to switch medications.

So what does all of this mean for health care marketers? Here are three key takeaways whether you’re selling prescription drugs or surgical services:

  • Go mobile. Now. Having a responsive websites and a strong social media presence is simply a must in today’s digital world. With the rise of HCAHPS, Meaningful Use 2 and readmission penalties, engaged patients are the holy grail for hospitals. The best way to reach those patients is to meet them where they are already spending time: online.
  • Give them what they’re searching for. Patients are hungry for information and – increasingly – using their smartphones and mobile devices to access it. Make it easy for them by providing useful content through a website, blog, or social media channels – or better yet, all three. Be sure to search engine optimize your content to ensure it’s easy to find.
  • Build it and they will come. Don’t rule out building or buying consumer-friendly apps designed to engage and empower patients with information – before, during and after admission. InQuicker and iTriage are just two examples of apps many hospitals are using to allow patients to check symptoms, find the nearest ER or urgent care center and pre-register for care. Other apps provide patients with wayfinding maps, personal health records, medication trackers and even a way to record discharge instructions.
  • Let them connect to you – and to each other. Patient communities, such as PatientsLikeMe or BensFriends, allow individuals with certain illnesses or conditions to connect with other patients experiencing the same condition. Creating service-line-specific groups – for groups such as expectant mothers, bariatric patients or cancer patients – can help a provider promote specialists, increase awareness about services and build loyalty among affinity groups.

Today’s patient isn’t just searching for information – they’re searching for a reason to act. What are you doing to give them one?