MIAMI BEACHWith nearly 228 million people accessing the Internet worldwide, it has become impossible not to give at least some thought as to how it may be affecting physicians practices and whether you should jump onto the webpage bandwagon.
Speaking at the annual meeting of the Network for Oncology Communication and Research (NOCR), Chris Efessious said that 68% of the people accessing the Internet use it for news and information, 56% for travel, 50% for movies and entertainment, and 46% for health and medicine information.
Your patients are probably getting information before they walk into your office, said Mr. Efessious, of Boron LePore Digital Communications.
A webpage immediately sets a physicians office apart from others if it has some or all of the following elements: a welcome, practice information, education, patient support areas, and contact information. The latter is most important in Mr. Efessious view.
Many websites miss this fundamental issue of why they even exist, he said. A good website needs to put information out, but it also must get information back in.
Information can be brought back in through online patient surveys and digital scheduling whereby patients can make their own appointments electronically. Its not so difficult to keep control of the schedule, Mr. Efessious said, if certain times or days are blocked off for electronic scheduling.
Communicating With Others MDs
A webpage is also a good sales tool, as it can give referring physicians and colleagues access to information about their patients, Mr. Efessious said. A mailing distribution list called a ListServ can be used to inform referring physicians of news and practice updates.
He added that private, password-protected chat rooms can be set up where colleagues can meet for virtual morning rounds.
Using the webpage wisely can give a practice more presence and differentiate it from others. But, it cannot just be a billboard, he said. The webpage can be used for conducting online patient education classes, for example, or as an information and registration page where people can find out where and when the classes are being held.
Areas for patients to post questions such as bulletin boards or a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) area represent other ways to get information in.
The idea of an Ask the Doctor area gave the NOCR audience some pause. An oncologist with a large breast cancer practice asked about being inadvertently dragged into litigation if an answer given online were ever used in court.
Dr. Stan Winokur, director of the NOCR, which has its own webpage (www.nocr.com), put the question in a social context. What you and your patients discuss behind closed doors about their particular problem is far different from what you would say at a cocktail party, he said, or on the Internet. Both Dr. Winokur and Mr. Efessious said that answers to questions online should always be qualified and only stated in general terms.
I believe smart doctors are going to recognize this as an extension of what weve been doing for the last 25 years, Dr. Winokur said. Its a new tool; you may use it selectively, but you need to know that its out there and a lot of people are using it.