We are fast approaching 2012 and many practices have websites, if not full-blown patient portals and social media strategies. But some practices may be lagging behind and are only now beginning to investigate an online presence. Even if you've had a site for years, it's worth reevaluating what information lives there and update it from time to time.
Making it work for your patients
First, start with the basics. The single, most compelling reason to have a website is to cut down on "information inquiry" calls to your practice. Listing your location, any specific or helpful directions, your hours of operation, how to contact you during and after business hours, and some information on your providers and practice should be plenty to get you started. Trust me when I say that a patient would rather look up your location online in two seconds flat than have to look up your number, call you, and have to hold for the answer.
Next, figure out the most common or frequent calls to your office. Depending upon your specialty it could be something as simple as questions about children's Tylenol / Motrin dosing for pediatric practices, or more complex topics such as managing glucose levels in endocrinology practices. Whatever the nature of the inquiries, if you are routinely giving the same information over the phone, or during office visits, you can reduce the time spent doing so substantially by posting that information on your website. Being able to refer patients to informational sources not only makes better use of your time, but it also improves your patients' perspectives on your expertise.
Once you have an "informational" site (or if you already do), it's time to start thinking about an "interactive" one. Do you have a Facebook page or Twitter account? You can embed live "feeds" in your website so that the material posted on your social media platforms also shows up on your website. Think about taking your written patient education material and turning it into a video. Most iPhones can create decent video, and there are fairly inexpensive video cameras on the market today, if you prefer to create a higher-quality product. Vimeo and YouTube accounts are free and easy to use, so adding video to your site is inexpensive and easy to do too. Patients want to hear what you have to say, not just read about it.
And with the advent of electronic health records (EHRs), patients want to access their files. Patient portals are becoming popular not just to meet patient demand but also because they are part of meaningful-use standards. Utility varies, but these portals allow patients to access certain parts of their medical records, download forms, request appointments, view lab work and other tests, request prescription refills, and so on. Patient portals are usually created and maintained by EHR vendors and link from your website into a secure environment where patients sign in with a username and password.
Making it work for you
Over and over I hear the same refrain from practices — they hired a company to build a website, were assured that they could update and post content, and then found out that every little change had ongoing costs. Because of this, many websites just sit static and age out. Several years ago, building a website was a difficult undertaking and practices needed the expertise of design wizards to make that happen. But now, you can set up a simple website on your own in just a couple of hours. Companies like Yahoo Small Business, Go Daddy, and Intuit (to name only a few) offer domain registration, website hosting services with e-mail, and easy-to-use Web-building software and hundreds of templates that will have your practice up and running quickly, easily, and cheaply. Once you have a start, you can always upgrade later and use more sophisticated companies to make your website dreams come true (such as better design, search engine optimization, comprehensive libraries, and so on).
Remember, the bottom line is this: The world has moved online and if you are there too, at the very least, you will reduce calls to your practice, save time answering frequently asked questions, and build better relationships with your patients.
Susanne Madden, MBA, is founder and CEO of The Verden Group, a consulting and business intelligence firm that specializes in practice management, physician education, and healthcare policy. She can be reached at email@example.com or by visiting www.theverdengroup.com.