Should You Market Your Practice Electronically?

As Electronic Health Records, patient portals, and mobile access to online healthcare information becomes more prevalent, physicians need to consider whether they need an online identity to promote their practice, retain their patients, and remain competitive in an increasingly online world. Many physicians question whether they should spend their limited time on medical practice websites, social media, or managing electronic communications with patients.

You may have used traditional media in the past to promote your practice including radio, TV, print media. However, what is required to create an online presence and what approach should you take to marketing your practice in 2012?

First, it is important to establish your goals when creating an online identity.

  • Are you in a growth phase for your practice?
  • Do you provide a service that needs a constant flow of referrals, e.g. a cosmetic-related specialty?
  • Are you concerned about losing patients to more tech savvy physicians?
  • Do you want to leverage tools beyond your EHR in order to provide a higher level of service to existing patients?

All of these objectives need some form of communications strategy and there are many electronic options available including the following:

  • Medical Practice Website — In 2012, it is almost imperative to have a practice website. Google has become synonymous with searching for information whether that be clinical information or someone who is searching for a new physician. You will need to determine whether you require a complex custom-designed website, or an inexpensive option that provides basic contact information and information about the practice staff. Your practice website can also provide links to other services that your practice offers, including a link to the patient portal within your practice’s EHR system.
  • Email — Do you have an email strategy or policy for your practice? For existing patients, email is a very effective medium for a number of different types of communications. Two important points to consider with email are whether you have a secure email communication system so that sensitive patient data is not at risk of being shared via the Internet, and whether your list of patient email addresses is up to date. If you intend to use email for doctor/patient communication, your staff should be confirming email addresses with patients when they check-in at the front desk and also obtaining consent from patients to communicate with them using email. Email also allows you to send out non-confidential information, such as newsletters and patient satisfaction surveys. Email can also be used to introduce new staff or notify patients about clinics or changes in office hours.
  • Blog — If you are a bit more savvy and want an easy way to share knowledge in a specific area, a blog is a great medium in order to do so. Two of the most popular blogging services are WordPress and Blogger. In addition to free versions, you can purchase an upgraded account that provides greater ability to customize the overall look and feel as well as the additional features. You can also link your blog or embed your blog in an existing website so that the user experience is more consistent.
  • Social Media: Facebook/Twitter — If you decide to set up a Facebook or Twitter account for your practice, establish a clear separation between personal and professional use. There may be a temptation to simply extend your personal accounts to your practice; however, this approach can land you in ethical hot water if the lines between professional and personal lives begin to cross.
  • YouTube — If you have the skills and the capacity to record, edit, and upload video to either your practice website or your blog, these can be extremely effective as patient education and information resources. For example, you can create patient education videos on the use of certain medications such as asthma inhalers or develop short video clips explaining office procedures.

If you have a medical practice website or are planning to set one up, consider the following:

  1. The Internet is continuously changing and, in order to be found, you are at the mercy of the search engines and Google in particular. In order to appear on the first page of search results, you will need to spend some time and money on search engine optimization (SEO). Optimizing a website is a highly specialized skill set. It is worthwhile hiring someone who is trained in SEO if you have a specific need to appear high up in the rankings based upon key words and other options that are used to describe your website.
  2. Make sure that your contact information is accessible through all pages of your site. Either via email or telephone. It is surprising the number of websites that do not prominently display contact information or instructions on how to reach a practice. Embedding a free map is also useful.
  3. Track your results using online analytics. Understanding the impact of the information you are providing and the most popular areas of your practice website can help you improve service by providing further information in those specific areas.

Do you use any of these tools to market your practice electronically? Share tips or advice by adding a comment.

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