What's your Web site doing for you?

January 1, 2007

As more consumers hop onto the World Wide Web to search for information about healthcare, it's simply a must for dermatology practices to have Web sites.

Think of your Web site as a three-level project: level one focuses on basic marketing; level two focuses on improving practice efficiency; and level three tries to generate new revenue.

Level one: Marketing

Consider your Web site as your telephone directory ad. The Web site should contain your phone number and address (and a link to a map and directions) to help customers find you. Also include a list of your physicians (with links to additional information about them and key support staff) and descriptions of your services.

The Web site must be graphically appealing from the initial frame. Be sure to test what users will see when that first page loads by using several computers to pull up your new site. Don't overload the site with photos, animations or graphics; they will make it slow to load. Abide by basic design standards, such as putting the navigation bar or menus on the left side of each page of your Web site, not the bottom. Engage existing patients by asking them to help you create a "frequently asked questions" section of the Web site.

If you use material from patient education brochures produced by other organizations, be sure you have permission to do so. Embed the information on your site instead of just posting links to other sites, because that sends patients away from your Web site. Patients will appreciate it if you list your participation with insurance companies, but be sure to keep that information up-to-date. Remember, the first level of a practice Web site is static but critical.

Level two: Efficiency

A Web site is crucial for marketing, but savvy dermatology practices take their sites to a higher level by using the Internet to reduce practice costs and increase operating efficiency.

For example, use your site to help handle basic customer inquires about the clinic's location(s), hours and perhaps basic health tips. Historically, many questions come in via telephone and often during peak clinic hours (9 a.m. to 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.) when your staff is busy helping patients in the office.

Your Web site also can help staff handle requests for appointments. While some practices allow patients to schedule their own appointments, most practices are more comfortable accepting requests via the Web and contacting the patient to schedule a mutually convenient time. Patients appreciate getting in touch with the right person on the first attempt instead of being transferred from desk to desk.

Putting registration and medical history forms online can streamline the administrative check-in process, saving precious minutes when patients actually show up. Offering online bill payment is an easy, cost-effective feature that can provide immediate cost savings, improve your cash flow, and provide a convenience to patients. Make sure to use secure clinical communication when streamlining these administrative processes. Facilitating the delivery of test results also can dramatically reduce the amount of staff time spent managing inbound phone calls. The savings to your practice from transferring at least some of the workload of these administrative functions to the Web will allow you to redeploy those resources elsewhere to provide even better service to patients.

Level three: Revenue

Web sites can bring in new business.

Start by developing a simple means to capture the names of those who visit your Web site, such as asking visitors to sign up to receive an e-mail newsletter or e-mail announcements from your practice. While not all visitors may sign up and many will not become patients immediately, their interest alone indicates that they could be future patients.