The Internet and the dermatology parctice

September 1, 2007

With more than 200 million Internet users in the United States (according to the CIA's online World Factbook, 2005 estimate) the Internet is taking the place of many informational resources such as the Yellow Pages and even person-to-person communication.

With more than 200 million Internet users in the United States (according to the CIA's online World Factbook, 2005 estimate) the Internet is taking the place of many informational resources such as the Yellow Pages and even person-to-person communication.

Doctors know patients are researching medical conditions and treatments online because many of those patients come into the office with printouts and questions.

With that kind of outreach and acceptance of the Web, On Call wondered if dermatologists were making use of this mass marketing tool by creating their own practice Web sites. If so, we asked how they use it, and if they didn't have a practice Web site, why not?

While some dermatologists consider the Internet an integral part of their practice, others do not.

Alan Solter, M.D., in Pittsburgh, explains that a practice Web site just isn't important.

Because he has a stable patient base, neither does he need to share basic information about the practice.

"Since most of my patients are regulars, my percentage of new patients is really low and my return patients know where we are and when we are here, so my staff doesn't even have to handle many phone calls for information."

Dr. Solter points out that the characteristics of a patient population will also influence how a Web site is used. He says his patients are one reason he's not too worried about creating a presence on the Internet, or instituting online patient registration and histories.

"I see a lot of Medicare patients in my office, and even though many of these patients have computers, all they use (them) for is e-mailing the grandchildren back and forth. I can't see them trying to fill out forms on the Internet."

In Leawood, Kan., Holly Fritch Kirby, M.D., is not only so busy she doesn't feel the need for advertising, she's too busy to take the time to build a Web site.

"I just don't have the time to even think about what I would want on a Web site," she tells On Call. "I suppose I could have someone else create a Web site for me, but knowing myself, I would want to oversee what they were doing. So that probably wouldn't save me much time."

Dr. Fritch Kirby, who has been a dermatologist for 19 years and spent five years in internal medicine, recognizes that a Web site would be an opportunity to reach certain patients, but says it's not the source of a majority of her patients.

Dr. Fritch Kirby, however, has not ruled out a future Web site.

"Some new patients probably wouldn't mind Googling you so they could get a sense of your personality and your office, so it wouldn't seem so foreign when they walked in your door. That could be comforting."

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