Surfing the Web for services and utilizing Web sites to shop and book appointments is no longer only for the younger generations. According to Pew Internet and American Life Project survey results (published in March 2004), 66 percent of wired seniors had searched for health information online by the end of 2003, and 47 percent of online seniors had purchased something on the Internet during that time. These numbers don't even take into account the baby boomers' slightly younger than retirees' who are vastly more attached to the online world.
Why Should My Practice Have a Web Site?
The current health care environment that seeks to empower consumers and involve them in their own care, and this empowered patient typically turns to the Internet as a third party in their care.
A practice Web site can be a very effective tool for controlling patient flow and marketing your services.
Your practice Web site can serve as a virtual front office that handles everything from patient scheduling to providing the operating hours for—and directions to—your practice. It can also automate the non-clinical tasks of your practice by providing the following:
- Appointment scheduling and reminders (If you implement an automated scheduling system through your Web site, be sure that the system you choose is compatible with your practice management system.)
- Forms for medication refill requests
- Insurance information
- Online account information and payment options
- New patient forms for history taking and pre-appointment surveys
- Patient education materials such as video links to other trusted Web sites, educational videos, sand your own fact sheets on the different rheumatic diseases and treatment options
Automation of these tasks will free up the time of the front receptionist and can even reduce the number of staff needed in your front office - ultimately lowering your overhead.
A practice Web site also serves as an inexpensive marketing tool will become the modern billboard that will alert prospective patients to your practice and the services you offer. The current health care environment that seeks to empower consumers and involve them in their own care, and this empowered patient typically turns to the Internet as a third party in their care. What better way to manage the way they are getting their information than to provide links to sites that you trust?
What information you include on your Web site will depend on your individual practice, and the amount of time you want to spend on the marketing aspect of your site. At the very basic level, it should include information about the practice, contact details for key people (e.g., the office manager, scheduling, nursing staff and billing), directions to the practice and a short physician biography.
I'm Sold! How Do I Start?
Building and maintaining a Web site is easier than you may think. A variety of Web site builder programs and hosting companies provide a cut-and-paste style, or template driven, Web design programs that can quickly and easily create a professional looking Web site. Some of these companies are familiar with, and can assist in, verifying that your Web site is HIPAA compliant, but it is always a good idea to have an attorney familiar with HIPAA regulations review every detail of the site, from how it is encrypted to the wording of the terms of service disclaimer.
The key to creating a Website that captures the attention of both current and potential patients is to create enough value and excitement to get consumers to come to the site, stick around, and come back again. Today's Web users are quick to abandon any Web site that doesn't measure up. If it doesn't meet their expectations, they will just “x out” and leave—never to return—and you won't know why (this is known as the “Internet death penalty”).
A key challenge is designing a Web site that is attractive on first view and interesting enough to encourage repeat visits. When considering how your practice will accomplish this, pay close attention to the 7Cs of Effective Web Site Design1:
- Context: The site's layout and design
- Content: The text, pictures, sound, and video that the Web site contains
- Community: The ways that the site enables user-to-user communication
- Customization: The site's ability to tailor itself to different users or to allow users to personalize the site
- Communication: The ways the site enables site-to-user, user-to-site, or two-way communication
- Connection: The degree that the site is linked to other sites
- Commerce: The site's capabilities to enable commercial transactions
At the very least, your Web site should be easy to use and physically attractive, but ultimately, it should be useful. Web surfers and potential patients want to get information quickly, and they should know almost immediately upon accessing your site why they should stick around and what's in it for them to return.
For more information on creating a practice Web site, please contact Itara Barnes at .
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1 Rayport, J. F. & Jaworski, B. J. 2001. E-Commerce. McGraw-Hill/Irwin.
This article is provided for informational purposes only. The ACR is not responsible for any career decisions made by those consulting this article.
© 2010 American College of Rheumatology