Robert B. Connelly
The Information Superhighway is ready and able to deliver your
message to thousands of people, including your current and
potential new patients. Your primary vehicle on the World Wide Web
(WWW, or web)-that section of cyberspace most people associate with
the Internet-is your Web site.
If you do not already have a Web site, establish one. If you
have the opportunity to post multiple Web sites, take it. If you
already have a Web site but it includes little or nothing more than
your name, practice address, hours, and CV, develop it.
Make your Web site easy to find. Register with as many search
engines as you can. Make hyperlinking sites work for you. Make your
site one that your patients will bookmark and visit again and
again. Make it user-friendly and easy to navigate.
Internet competition for patients is starting to intensify.
Medical practices that start using the Internet early and use it
well will find it to be a marketing tool like no other. Others will
suffer the consequences of "too little, too late."
The Internet is always accessible, easily updated or altered,
interactive, and can use animation, sound and moving images. The
Internet is expanding daily. E-commerce is booming. Within a few
years, almost everybody will have a personal computer or have
access to one.
Web Site Options
First, have a Web site. Physician affiliation organizations such
as IPAs often provide member physicians or practices with free Web
sites or Web site pages. Your hospital may offer a similar service.
So might your state or local medical society.
If you are offered a Web site or web page, take it. These tend
to be low-cost or no-cost ways to get your name on the Internet.
Free sites typically include little more than your name; your
practice's name, address, and other contact information; your
specialty or subspecialty; perhaps a list of services; and possibly
your (often substantially shortened) CV.
Further, if your Web site is hosted by a larger organization, it
may well be difficult for your patients to find. Typically, the
information seeker will need to travel several levels into a
hierarchically organized site to find information about a specific
physician or practice.
Marketing by Web Site
To make your Web site a valuable marketing tool, it must be
yours. Take any free site(s) you are offered, but also establish
your own, and make it useful. Having your own Web site may be a
disservice if it is only there to let other (e.g., referring)
physicians know that your practice exists, just a copy of the ad
you placed in your local telephone directory or boring,
user-unfriendly, or rarely changed.
Focus on your current patients, possible new patients and
caregivers. Caregivers are those people who provide day-to-day care
for patients and plan enrollees and make decisions about who their
health care providers are. For example, parents of young children
and adult children of the elderly are caregivers.
Communicate effectively with these audiences and potential
audiences. Those who are searching on the Internet will expect the
following of your site: a substantial amount of information, good
design and frequent updates and alterations.
Use your Web site to state your medical practice philosophies
dealing with medical care, patient care and customer service.
Describe the services you offer. List the health plans with which
you participate. If yours is a group practice, include information
about each of your physicians. Include data that patients will want
to know, such as specialty, subspecialty or area of focus;
highlights of your training and services offered.
If you have published any papers, have them rewritten in plain,
simple English, free of as much medical jargon as possible. If
necessary, explain any terms readers may need to understand.
Develop a glossary. With permission to use copyrighted material,
post papers on your Web site for other physicians to read. If these
are posted on other sites by entities that hold the copyright,
establish (with permission) hyperlinks for them. Or simply post the
summaries with citations.
Publish events that patients, caregivers and other physicians
want to know about, such as the addition of a new physician,
seminars and conferences at which you will be presenting, the
departure of a retiring physician, the addition of new services or
coverage, the opening of a new facility, your participation in new
health plans and the merger with or acquisition of another
Provide timely medical information. For example, an ophthalmic
practice may want to inform patients about a new laser procedure,
an orthopedic practice may want to tell patients about a new
arthroscopic technique, or a pediatric practice may want to advise
parents about a new vaccine.
Provide directions to your office. Many services to which you
can link your site provide on-line maps and generate driving
directions from anywhere to your front door.
Tell your patients when you will be offering new services, how
much they will cost, and how they are being covered by health
plans. Tell your patients which of your doctors is qualified or is
becoming qualified to provide these new services to them.
If your practice is offering complementary and alternative
medicine (CAM) services (such as chiropractic, neuropathy, holistic
medicine, acupuncture, yoga and massage therapy), make sure your
Web site has this information.
CAM consumers often surf the Internet to find providers and
information. This area of non-traditional medicine is largely
unregulated, and there is a lot of misinformation available. Thus,
even if you are not providing the actual CAM services, providing
accurate information about CAM services will benefit your patients.
In turn, providing necessary information and guidance is an
excellent marketing tool.
Keep your Web site seasonal. For example, if summer is coming,
warn your Web site visitors about Lyme disease and ticks. If fall
is approaching, warn about influenza. If spring is around the
corner, start posting allergy advisories and pollen/air quality
reports. If winter is on its way, post materials about heart
attacks and muscle problems associated with shoveling snow. Focus
on those seasonal elements that your practice diagnoses and
If you have one, post your newsletter on your Web site.
Design your Web site to be user-friendly, interactive and
attractive. Organize it so that navigation is easy. Establish
clearly defined bookmarks and hyperlinks. Make your backgrounds
interesting but easy on the eyes. Animated type and graphics can
make a Web site interesting, but an animation overdose can decrease
the number of return visits.
Interactive Web sites are rapidly increasing in popularity. Some
practices offer on-line patient appointment scheduling. Here,
patients can access your on-line schedule, find out which
physicians are available and request a time slot on a specific day.
Your practice will be able to confirm the appointment or suggest an
alternative immediately on line, by e-mail or with a phone call at
your staff's convenience.
With an interactive Web site, your practice can even have
patients fill out registration forms on-line from home, in advance
of the office visit. These forms allow patients or caregivers to go
on line to register, furnish insurance data and even provide
information about history, symptoms and other medical chart items.
Patients with non-traditional work schedules might find this option
attractive. So might others, such as parents of young children, who
can fill out a pediatrician's forms at home when the baby is asleep
rather than in the office when the baby is restless.
Consider establishing a "frequently asked questions" (FAQ)
section. You can post common questions and the answers to them. For
"Q: My child is 24 months old; what immunizations should be
"A: For a two-year old child, our practice recommends, in
accordance with American Association of Pediatrics
You will be faced with many decisions about your Web site, such
as what information to present, how the information is presented
(in what order or hierarchy, as well as how it looks), how the site
is arranged and the traffic flows, what the graphic content should
be (including pictures of the physicians and/or non-physicians,
pictures of the office and/or of equipment, buttons, banners and
other Web site-specific devices) and who should administer the site
and/or serve as liaison with your off-site Web site
When you establish your Web site, make it easy to find. It will
cost you money to establish and maintain your Web site. If you have
little or no web traffic, you may not realize a significant return
on your investment.
Notify all the search engines and directories possible. Link
your site to all the medical/health care directories and search
engines you can find. Consider ACHOO http://www.achoo.com, The
Physician's Practice http://www.physicianpractice.com, and
. There are other local, state and regional entities, as well.
Send electronic press releases to Internet agencies and to local
newspapers. Announce your site in your newsletter. Post notices and
reprints of any stories from local newspapers in your office.
Contact your patients by phone or direct mail.
Link your Web site (with permission; establish two-way links
whenever possible) with other useful sites, such as the AMA, your
local, state and regional medical societies, and your specialty and
subspecialty medical societies.
Consider linking your site with medical libraries, your
hospitals and other sites you discover that have information your
Web site visitors can use, particularly if that information ties in
with services you provide. For example, if you have a large
Medicare population, consider providing links to the
Health Care Financing Administration
and even the
American Association of Retired
Once your site is established, be certain to update it no less
frequently than monthly. Notify visitors of any changes with short
indicators on your front page, such as: "Our practice is bringing
on board a new associate. To learn a little about Dr. A, or to
leave a question for him/her, click here."
Update your site whenever you have news, even if you only
updated it the day before. If your site becomes stale and your news
becomes old, repeat visits will decrease.
If you are in solo practice, you may not have time, expertise or
desire to design, maintain and update your Web site. But you should
have one anyway. Group practices will probably have someone on
board-perhaps the managing physician-who can devote the time and
energy to the project. Larger groups will have business
administrators and/or information specialists to function as
In any group setting, the practice's physician co-owners will
need to reach consensus about your Web site's design, content and
Whatever your situation, you can and perhaps should outsource
your Web site. Hire a Web site designer. Rely on your web "host"
for updates. If you maintain the site in-house, at least hire a
professional to check your information for accuracy.
In any situation, have an attorney advise you about copyright
matters, protecting patient confidentiality and steering clear of
practicing medicine on your Web site. Have the necessary
disclaimer(s) clearly visible on your Web site.
You can use your Web site to survey patient and/or referring
physician satisfaction with your Web site on-line. When patients
visit, ask them if they have e-mail capacity. Get the e-mail
addresses of those who do. E-mail the survey form, have them
complete it and e-mail it back to you. Phone your referring
physicians and arrange surveying by e-mail.
If your data are already on the computer, they will probably be
much easier to collate and analyze. Further, your respondents will
be using the computer rather than filling out a paper form. Most
people who have computers prefer to use them rather than paper, and
they tend to save time. Thus, their satisfaction with your practice
You can also use e-mail to send patient reports to
referring/referral physicians. Just be certain to protect patient
confidentiality. If your Web site has sturdy firewalls (electronic
security protections) and your personnel all understand and respect
your patients' confidentiality, this should be no problem. In fact,
e-mail may, in some ways, be more secure than facsimile
transmission (faxing) or surface mailing.
Many local Internet hosts/servers/entities have
medicine/health/physician sections and programs. Some of these ask
local physicians to answer questions posted by visitors on their
electronic "bulletin boards" or to "chat" (communicate
electronically, in real time, via computer, frequently using the
keyboard to type dialogue) with Internet surfers, typically for an
hour or two at a time during a period established in advance, and
perhaps regularly. Consider volunteering your services as their
Also consider offering these services on your Web site.
Particularly if you have a specialty practice, you may want to
establish a virtual support group for your patients and others with
similar medical problems.
Be certain you have an attorney advise you before you answer
bulletin board questions or during chat sessions, whether you are
doing it for your Web site or some other entity's.
The Internet is a remarkably effective mass communications tool.
If you use it correctly, the Web site you establish on the Internet
can be an extremely effective marketing tool for your medical
practice. It will cost you time, energy and money to establish and
maintain your Web site. But effective marketing always takes time,
energy and money to implement.
The Internet is booming, the technology is advancing and you can
entirely outsource the project. This is the growth industry of the
early 21st century and you can take advantage of it now. Many
practices already are on the Internet; they have the advantage.
Get the same advantage. Use your Web site to market your medical
practice. Do it early and do it right.
Robert B. Connelly, is a consultant with The Health Care
Group, Inc., a national medical practice consultation firm based
in Plymouth Meeting, Pa.