If your practice doesn’t already have a website, you’ve probably considered getting one. Clinical Practice Today spoke with Kenneth Hertz, principal consultant of the Medical Group Management Association, about important considerations in creating and managing an effective medical practice website. It’s primarily about asking yourself the right questions, Hertz says, and getting the right help.
Why Do You Need a Website?
Okay, so you’ve decided your practice absolutely needs a website.
Why? “’Because every other practice has one!’ is often the answer,” says Hertz, “But that’s not a good reason.” As a first step, Hertz encourages physicians to really think about what they want from an online presence.
Typically, a website is a potential patient’s first impression of your practice. Patients want to learn about you and your staff, understand the services you have to offer, and get a feel for your approach to care. For current patients, a website can offer convenient services and useful information.
Websites, however, are generally part of an overall marketing plan, Hertz says. “It’s important that physicians don’t think that if they just do a website, that will be all they need to do to market their practice,” he says. “It’s only a piece.”
Basic Website or Advanced Features?
Medical practice websites can run the gamut from a few simple pages of basic information to sophisticated sites with custom graphics, embedded videos, and secured patient portals that provided access to electronic health records (EHRs) and appointment booking. You have to decide not only what kind of image you want to present to prospective patients but also what tools you’d like to offer your existing patients. The table below lists some common features you might consider.
Basic Medical Practice Website
Caution: Don’t Try This at Home!
Even though a plethora of web-building software programs and low-cost templates are available to consumers, Hertz strongly urges physicians to avoid the temptation of trying to build their own website. “Have it professionally done,” he counsels. “Can you do it yourself? Yes, there are some docs who might be proficient in this area,” but most aren’t, he says. Additionally, building a website and maintaining it takes a substantial time commitment.
Look for a web designer who is committed not just to making a visually attractive website, but who can create effective messaging and cultivate an online presence for your practice. Web designers are experts in search engine optimization, the key process to drive traffic to your site. Moreover, a version of the website optimized for mobile phones and tablets is no longer an option—it’s an absolute necessity, Hertz says. If your practice has a social media presence, it, too, should be integrated with the new website.
Professionally designed medical practice websites can be relatively inexpensive—starting at around $1,500-$2,000—but can easily run over $10,000, depending on complexity and features, Hertz says. Enlisting the help of web designers or agencies who specialize in medical practice websites can be worth the investment, as they are likely to be familiar with important regulatory issues like HIPAA, can provide targeted medical specialty content, and are knowledgeable about the integration of patient portals, the EHR, and other advanced practice-specific features.
If cost is a limiting factor, Hertz suggests seeking out local web designers that may charge less than big medical marketing agencies. “Even in small communities, you can find graphic designers or artists who know the tricks of the trade,” he says. Whoever you choose, be sure to view their portfolio first and ask for references.
Congratulations, Your Practice is Online! Now What?
What happens after the website is launched is critically important to its ongoing effectiveness, Hertz says. Websites need routine checkups to look for and modify:
- Outdated provider profiles, insurance plans accepted, locations, phone numbers
- Poorly sourced or outdated patient education pages, patient forms
- Dead links, “error” messages
- Old, tired layouts, graphics, and text fonts
Hertz suggests leaving these tasks to the professionals as well. Web designers know the ins and outs of ongoing site maintenance and keeping content up-to-date. However, if your practice is large enough to have a dedicated technology specialist on staff, that person may be able to help out with some of these chores.
In conclusion, Hertz says, “There’s no mystery to a great medical practice website: think about it, plan it, and keep it up to date.”