Published 10/1/2012
Aaron Hurst; Anthony V. Petrosini, MD

Improving Your Online Success

Make your practice website a positive experience for patients

Your current and potential patients are asking a lot of the Internet in general and of healthcare practice websites in particular. Gone are the days when websites only provided patients with a way to locate a practice. Potential patients want more information before deciding to contact the referral from their primary doctor or friend.

Today, patients want a comprehensive online experience with your practice before they pick up the phone or schedule a consultation. The following tips will help you begin to create this type of experience, capitalize on the positive experiences of current patients, and reach out to new patients.

Offer a custom design and unique content
Have your patients complimented your practice’s website before? Or told you they found it informative, educational, engaging? Are you proud of it?

By concentrating on creating a well-rounded experience with one-of-a-kind design and unique content, you can help your patients find your practice and give them several reasons to stay on the page, ultimately driving them to contact your practice. For example, you can lead them down the procedural trail from pre-op to recovery to physical therapy, present patient testimonials that provide an inside look at you and your team, or offer a host of videos and blog posts related to common patient concerns and questions. Whatever you do, remember that the goal is engagement.

Forget the templates and cookie-cutter design, your patients want to learn more about you and they will not stick around for boring, poorly written content or confusing site architecture. By creating a seamless, easy-to-navigate website, you can ensure that visitors continue down the path toward scheduling a consultation.

Maximize SEO
SEO stands for search engine optimization and basically represents a translation of your site into language the search engines can understand. Patients tend to use similar queries, which means your site needs to be optimized for those keywords that are most important to your practice.

How can you be certain your site is correctly optimized? If you hire a search marketing firm, make sure that it offers both content and SEO, and that you retain the rights. But primarily, you want to make sure your site is friendly to both search engines and users.

Search bots (computer programs that crawl and index your site’s content) keep track of the keywords you use most frequently. By paying close attention to the information you choose to include on each page, you can help search engines index your site correctly, while ensuring curious patients find the information they want.

Online reputation management
When was the last time you “googled” your name or your practice name? With review sites popping up across the Internet, online reputation management has become increasingly important. Starting now with a proactive strategy will help you confront any issues that might arise in the future.

By proactively optimizing your site, related Internet channels within the practice’s control (such as Facebook, Twitter, or mobile sites), and any listings with related societies or organizations, you can bolster your online reputation. Remaining active on those channels will also help protect your name and the name of your practice. If any negative sentiments are expressed on a patient review site, you’ll have information and comments to counterbalance the review. (See “Six Steps for Managing Your Online Reputation” on page 29)

Engage your patients
How often do patients contact your practice between office visits? Social media provides an easy way to stay in touch with patients and make them feel like a part of your team.

Building a social community around your practice strengthens the bonds between you and your patients and shows new patients what they can expect. However, simply having a social media account is not enough. Engagement and interaction are integral to social media success. It will take time to develop a fan base, but once you’ve cultivated a following, your patients will begin to spread virtual word of mouth, which greatly increases the reach of your practice and further validates the quality of patient care you can provide.

You should be aware that the U.S. Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) has established specific social media guidelines that include the following recommendations:

  • Online interaction between physicians and patients should only occur when discussing the patient’s medical treatment and never occur on social networking sites.
  • Patient privacy and confidentiality must be protected at all times, especially on social media sites.
  • Physicians should be aware that anything posted to the Internet has the potential to be seen by a large audience, indefinitely.

Go mobile
How often are you on your mobile phone? Your tablet? As the popularity of the mobile platform increases, more patients are accessing health records and searching for practice information while on-the-go.

It’s important to pay attention to the number of users accessing your site from a mobile device. Once mobile users reach roughly 20 percent of your site’s total traffic, it’s time for you to take the leap into the mobile universe.

But why wait? By providing website visitors with a mobile website, you can ensure current and potential patients have a positive experience with your practice on every level, from every device, at any time.

For additional information regarding social media, establishing and protecting your online reputation, and mobile technology in healthcare, refer to the AAOS primer on Social Media in Healthcare at www.aaos.org/pracman

Aaron Hurst is a writer and editor at Rosemont Media, San Diego, Calif. Anthony V. Petrosini, MD, of the Orthopaedic Institute of Central Jersey, is a member of the AAOS Practice Management Committee. He can be reached at avp@oiortho.com

Five Questions About Your Online Presence
Answer these five questions, and not only will you have a benchmark for your site’s current performance, but you will also be able to clearly identify areas that need further attention.

  • Does my website provide an inside look at my practice and philosophy?
  • Is my website correctly optimized for search engines and users?
  • How can I protect my online reputation?
  • How can I communicate with current and new patients between visits?
  • How often do patients use their mobile phones to interact with my practice?

FSMB guidelines
“Model Policy Guidelines for the Appropriate Use of Social Media and Social Networking in Medical Practice”

AAOS Primer on Social Media
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