American College of Physicians: Internal Medicine — Doctors for Adults ®

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Hang out a digital shingle

From the July/August ACP Internist, copyright 2011 by the American College of Physicians

Physicians need to understand how to establish their identities and their practices online in order to attract patients in the social media age. This online identity includes not only using websites and e-mail, but developing a presence on Facebook and Twitter and on third-party physician ranking websites.

In the center of all these digital options is the practice website. A practice with a good and “findable” website is worth more than any yellow pages ad, insurance listing, and attendance at health fairs. While word of mouth still reigns supreme, a good website can provide all the information patients need before they ever pick up the phone to schedule the first appointment.

To create a website, you can hire a Web designer to do it or you can do it yourself using some fairly simple online options. Here are some considerations when creating a website:

  • Get all the content ready to go. Write up the goals, bios, pictures, practice policies, hours, directions, participating insurance plans, unique services, and other information you want your patients to know.
  • Buy a domain name. It is not very expensive, so register for different variations of the practice name, and possibly also each physician's name. Some domains come in a package with Web hosting, or you may buy that separately.
  • Hosting costs will vary depending on how many pages your website will have.
  • Get “search engine optimization” (SEO) so that your website can be found. A typical five-page website with SEO will cost about $119 a year.
  • Build your website keeping your patients in mind. If you are using a “pre-fabricated” website, you can choose from a variety of designs and load pictures and text easily.

In addition to websites, patients can research doctors in many ways. There are commercial sites, such as healthgrades.com, vitals.com and Angie's List, as well as insurance and hospital websites. Even the government has sites that compare physicians and allow consumers to “shop” for doctors much like they shop for anything else online.

Even if a patient finds you on the insurance or hospital “find a doctor” site, they will then search Google to see if they can find out more about you before deciding to schedule an appointment with you. Keep your website current as a resource for this audience. You can also use Facebook, blogs, Twitter, and YouTube for patient education and communication purposes. For instance, a Facebook page could include links to other sites with reliable information, recent research studies that might interest your patients, or announce new staff. Similarly, Twitter could be used to announce when flu shots have arrived or point patients to news items of interest to you.

For more details on developing a practice website (including search engine optimization), and how to use blogs, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other tools to promote your practice and educate your patients, go to ACP's Running a Practice website.

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