Marketing

10 reasons your practice needs a Web site

Can millions of Web-surfers be wrong?

While those who travel on the information superhighway are quick to tell you it isn’t paved with gold, there are still some great reasons for your practice to consider launching a Web site. We talked to two practices with sites to ask them why your practice should follow their lead. Here’s what they said:

1. Web access is growing exponentially. The number of people with access to the Internet continues to grow, says Neil Baum, MD, a urologist in practice in New Orleans who launched his site last year. "This is a way to let your patients and prospective patients know that you are current, up-to-date, and on the cutting edge."

2. It doesn’t have to cost a lot. Baum started his site (www.neilbaum.com) for about $3,000. Eric Swift, program supervisor at the four-physician Spine Center in San Francisco (www.spinenet. com), paid about the same amount when his site launched in 1994. He currently spends about $10,000 per year to maintain the site and is planning a major revamp that will cost more. But Swift says you don’t have to spend a fortune to get the benefits.

3. It really does bring traffic to your door. Swift says that in the first year, about 5% of the patient base at the Spine Center could be traced to the Web site. The next few years, it reached 10%, and in 1998, half the surgical business at the center came through the Web. "I can trace about $20 million per year through Internet clients."

4. It helps you communicate with patients and prospective patients. Baum uses his site as a way of helping patients and prospective patients gain access to information about issues they want to discuss with him or procedures they may be considering. For instance, if a patient calls with questions about infertility, the receptionist can make an appointment and then point the patient to the Web site for information on the subject.

5. Plenty of information exists on how to create a Web site. Baum used the American Medical Association and specialty organizations in doing his research for a Web site. Those organizations keep track of practices and physicians with Web sites. "I looked at those sites, found out who did the ones I liked, and went from there," Baum says.

6. There are some great tangent marketing opportunities once you are on the Internet. Swift’s initial plan was to partner with America Online to take care of spine-related questions for the Internet service provider. "They didn’t think we were big enough to handle what would happen." But now that the spine center is established, other such opportunities have presented themselves.

For instance, for an additional $1,250 per month, the center advertises with sidewalk.com, an entertainment-oriented Web site, as the only health care banner ad on its home page. Since that banner ad appeared, traffic on the site has increased by more than 50% in four months.

7. Specialists can reach a national market. When the Spine Center started, it focused on rehabilitation, says Swift. "But as the practice grew, we saw our specialty as dealing with failed surgeries, and we knew we had to reach out to a national market. The Web gives us that market potential."

8. It can be a timesaver for physicians. By directing patients to Web information or articles he has written, Baum is able to spend more time talking to patients about their care, rather than explaining the basics of a particular problem. The Spine Center, too, sees the Web site as a time saver. With 5,000 hits per month, Swift spends part of each day keeping on top of the e-mail that comes in.

"I download it twice a day, go through the questions, sort them, and decide who needs a physician answer, who needs a therapist answer, and what is garbage," he says. Most of the questions end up being forwarded to the medical director, who spends his own time in the evening answering the questions. "That helps to differentiate us from other sites," Swift explains. "You go right to the man with us. And that means that in two hours, he might be seeing’ 25 new patients that he otherwise might not have time for."

9. Web sites are cheaper than advertising. Swift says the cost of creating a simple Web site and maintaining it is much lower than the cost of other advertising. If you already advertise but don’t have a Web site, you may want to investigate switching.

10. It’s great PR. Even if you end up not seeing a patient because he or she was screened out, the effort your practice has made will be appreciated. For instance, Swift says one patient who wrote for information from the center ended up sending the doctors his films for review. The physicians pointed out something other doctors had missed. The patient was able to get more tests; his case was reopened by his insurance company, and he was retrained for another job. "He wrote a letter thanking us. You just can’t get enough good PR like that. People like that sing our praises."

Keeping up

Swift says most practices could benefit from a Web site. "It tells people what you do, and it gives patients more information about their conditions." But if you do embark on this path, Swift says you should be prepared for the work that having a Web site entails. You don’t have to have an e-mail form that lets people send you messages, but if you do include one, keep up with those messages and pay attention to what they say.

If a large number of questions are about particular issues, you may want to include links to other sites that provide more information or add a page about that topic to your own site, says Swift. You also can include answers in a frequently asked questions page.

(Editor’s note: For two additional examples of how a World Wide Web site can be used, see stories next and on p. 51.)

Sources

Neil Baum, MD, Private Practice of Urology, New Orleans. Telephone: (504) 891-8454.

Eric Swift, Program Supervisor, Spine Center, San Francisco. Telephone: (415) 353-6464.