Providing quality medical care is paramount to a practice’s success, but informing current and potential patients and colleagues of your practice’s offerings is equally vital. Every medical practice should have an effective Web strategy for site development and maintenance, marketing activities and metrics tracking and strategy optimization based on the results. Practices that institute and maintain a well-thought-out online presence tend to be more successful than those that lack a strategy or those that implement only a partial strategy. Here are some pointers for getting it right.
What do patients want from a website?
A well-designed website:
- Attracts prospective patients;
- Addresses the needs of current patients; and
- Facilitates referrals from other doctors and clinics.
Your website should act as a personal concierge for prospective and current patients. Individuals who consult your website are looking mainly for assurance of quality of care, reputation and professionalism. They may also be searching for factual information, such as specific services offered, specializations, location and contact information, and ways in which your practice simplifies interactions between patients and its staff. A website that addresses these concerns with an attractive design that is both interactive and intuitive to navigate meets patients’ expectations of a successful Web presence.
How can we make our website attractive to users?
The practice’s staff is critical to implementing a successful Web strategy. They must be familiar with the website and able to provide clear instructions and user tips to patients trying to navigate the site.
Your practice’s website must serve more than a patient audience, however. It should also function as a medium for presenting your practice to other medical professionals. Practices trying to recruit a new doctor, for example, should be sure that their website showcases their professionalism for prospective hires. Similarly, be sure to provide comprehensive information about your practice so that physicians deciding to whom to make a referral can find it easily.
How can SEO techniques increase our website’s effectiveness?
Search engines are critical to establishing and maintaining an effective online presence. Practices should ensure that their websites are properly optimized for search engines, using industry standards and search engine optimization (SEO) techniques. Google has released several updates within the past few years that have penalized websites with poor SEO practices. Statistics show that almost 90 percent of users never look past the first page of organic search results (results that display sites by popularity) and that 50 percent never look past the first half of a search page’s results. Therefore, most users are unlikely to find an improperly optimized website in their search, limiting the site’s use to patients who already know the Web address. SEO is critical to gaining online exposure when the goal is attracting patients who do not yet know anything about your practice.
How can we keep our website pertinent in a fast-changing environment?
Practices should consider redesigning their website every two to five years. The refresh rate depends on factors that include your practice’s competitive market, as well as changing technology standards and platforms.
For example, mobile is today’s fastest-growing computing platform. Does your website support the burgeoning smartphone mobile market? Depending on your practice’s location (rural or urban), medical practices have seen mobile access to their sites grow from less than 0.1 percent three years ago to as high as 25 percent in the past 12 months. Having a website that patients can access using various technologies also makes your practice more efficient. It reduces the time your staff must spend answering phone calls from patients seeking the practice’s street address, office hours or directions. A well-designed website can even allow patients to make their own appointments, or at least provide contact information for staff to follow up.
How can our practice benefit from online patient access?
With insurance reimbursements declining, practices must be more creative in building a patient base and in providing excellent patient service. It is also imperative that practices implement patient portals in order to operate more efficiently. The practice’s website can provide detailed information and instructions encouraging patients to access the patient portal. For example, patients can be encouraged to schedule appointments and complete paperwork online before their appointments, thereby improving patient flow and increasing staff efficiency. The banking industry has successfully encouraged customers to perform more transactions online. For better or worse, health care is trending the same way.
Many electronic medical record or practice management systems offer an integrated patient portal option. If yours does not, your practice can provide the practice’s forms on its website as downloadable PDF files. Most patients visit medical websites from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. while at work, so it is likely that they will print the forms at their employer’s office and complete them at home before their appointment. Providing practice forms online can save a practice thousands of dollars per year per doctor compared with the costs of mailing forms (postage, envelopes, paper, printer ink, staff labor costs, etc.) and provide efficiency gains by having the paperwork completed in advance. Even practices that have a patient portal may find it beneficial to also provide their forms as PDF files for the benefit of patients who are not apt to use this technology.
How can we use our website as a powerful business and advertising tool?
Many practices produce and launch an attractive and compelling website but then fail to market it. That’s akin to buying a new suit or dress but never wearing it or purchasing a new car and never taking it out of the garage. You will want to drive traffic to your site using as many avenues as feasible. Here are some tools for marketing your website:
- Informational cards in the waiting room
- Posters in the examining rooms
- Online advertising
- Email newsletters
- Social media
With respect to online advertising, practices can increase traffic (and patients) to their website using Google AdWords pay-per-click advertising. As an example, a practice can generate up to 300 additional website visitors per month by spending $300 per month ($10 per day or $1 per click) and bidding on keywords related to its specialties and services within a reasonable radius of the practice’s office locations. If the practice converts just 1 percent of the 300 website visitors into paying patients, that’s three new patients a month. Depending on the medical services the practice provides, it does not take very many patients to recoup the cost of advertising — and practices that satisfy these new patients will also benefit financially from new ongoing relationships.
Practices that do not advertise online make it more cost-effective and less expensive for competitors to market against them! This is because Google’s advertising model is dynamically market driven, meaning that the more advertisers that bid on the same keywords in the same market, the more it costs to be ranked higher in the search results. If no one else is bidding on your preferred keywords in your area, then you could pay the minimum of 10 cents to be ranked first. If your practice is bidding on a popular phrase — for example, laser eye surgery — in a very competitive market, then you could pay up to $30 per click. It is easy to search Google to determine who is advertising against you so that you can develop an appropriate advertising strategy.
Practices can also use online advertising to manage their reputation by proactively promoting a positive image that pushes negative comments down the list of search results. A proactive approach seeks to ensure that patients searching for the practice’s name or its doctors’ names will see the practice’s ad before viewing any potentially negative reviews on a ratings site.
Is it worth using social media?
Social media is currently the most talked-about, fastest-growing tool that practices can use strategically to increase their visibility among prospective patients. While Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare are popular, there are many other social networking sites and apps to consider. In terms of Facebook, a practice with a fan page can promote updates about, for example, its new medical services, new providers and new locations, as well as changes in office hours and staff, and more. Updates such as these are typically featured under the “Latest News” section of a newsletter. But since the average Facebook fan has about 130 friends, a practice could extend its marketing message to thousands of prospective patients using this social media outlet.
Due to HIPAA security and privacy requirements, it is very important that practices plan carefully before implementing a Facebook strategy. Marketing firms may not fully understand the risks associated with social networking in health care. Therefore, practices would be wise to consult with their malpractice insurance company and/or legal counsel before launching a social media campaign.
How can monitoring metrics help us reach our marketing goals?
Practices should track the metrics for their website visitors, advertising campaigns, social media reach and other marketing activities. Much of the information is easily accessible, and its retrieval can be automated. For example, Google Analytics can track traffic to your website and automatically email the reports on a regular schedule. Monitoring key metrics allows practices to set goals and objectively evaluate their progress against those goals. Also, reviewing the data at least quarterly lets practices identify opportunities and take timely corrective action to improve their marketing strategy.
Although most medical practices are multimillion-dollar business entities, many have been slow to market online, or even averse to marketing in general. A multitude of market forces are compelling practices to adapt to today’s realities or find themselves at the end of the pack. Those realities include aggressive competition from new doctors who embrace online marketing, regulatory requirements, reimbursement pressures, desire to provide elective procedures and heightened expectations and demands from patients for online access. Practices with a clear vision and plan for online marketing will enjoy more success than practices that fail to embrace this new electronic era.
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About the author: David E. Swink is the director of Internet services for Medical Management Associates, a consulting firm for physicians based in Atlanta. He has extensive experience providing health care organizations and physician medical practices with Web marketing services, including custom design, development, management, tracking and reporting, mobile Web, hosting, email and other related services. Medical Management Associates is a member of the AAOE Consultant Directory.