How To Market Your Practice On The Internet

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Keys To Making Your Site Compliant With HIPAA

Using your site to set up two-way communications between your practice and patients has its downside. For one, you must always make certain you are in compliance with HIPAA regulations regarding any protected information (medical history, lab results, pharmacy prescriptions, etc.) exchanged via Web-based technologies like e-mail.

The best way to address this issue is by working with a Web designer who can set you up with a secure e-mail network, including user authentication and data encryption. Such a solution helps to ensure the security of your one-to-one communications with patients and eliminate unauthorized access to any confidential information.

You are also compelled by HIPAA to post your practice’s privacy policy, defining what denotes protected provider information, what your practice does to protect that information, and how the patient can access it. If your e-mail network is not secure, you should inform the patient of this circumstance, both in your privacy notice and any other page on your site that references or provides a link to e-mail you.

HIPAA regulations are one reason such so-called “Web 2.0” technologies, such as blogs and wikis, are going to be slow to catch on across the wide medical community.

“That technology does not have a place in this discussion yet,” says Lombardi. “Blogs and the like are not really practical at this point. As those applications grow, new and better uses will arise, but they have not evolved to a point yet where they will be useful to a podiatry site.”

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Author(s): 
By Robert J. Smith, Contributing Editor

As we draw closer to the close of the century’s first decade, we see that technology is more ubiquitous than ever as it reaches into virtually every aspect of our lives and businesses. Nowhere is this more apparent or relevant than in medical practices, which have opened themselves to the Web in everything from billing to dispensing and prescriptions.
Marketing a practice on the Web is possibly the most widely used application of Internet technology. One essential reason justifies the creation and maintenance of a practice Web site: patients expect it.

“It is a critical part of running a practice in the 21st century,” concurs Bruce Werber, DPM, who practices at the Arizona Institute of Footcare in Mesa, Ariz. “Society is becoming more Web-based and more Web-savvy. As we deal with more technologies like Blackberries and iPhones, the need for an electronic presence becomes more crucial.”
If nothing else, the affordability of the technology will ensure the critical need for a Web presence, explains Dr. Werber.
“For example, iPhones were $600 last year. Now they are $200 and the price will likely come down more at some point,” says Dr. Werber. “Patients are smarter. They expect you to have this kind of presence. If you are not out there, you are not going to attract new patients to your practice.”
“Most small businesses have some sort of Web presence,” explains Glenn Lombardi, the President of Officite, an Oak Brook, Ill.-based Web design and marketing firm that specializes in the medical community.
“You have a podiatry practice. You have spent money on your facilities, your office and your equipment. You have spent money on a sign. You need to have a sign on the Internet,” he says. “It is the number one place people research medical information. It is becoming a strong area for people who are looking for doctors.”
Chad Schwarz, Director of Patient and Community Relations for the New Jersey-based Affiliated Foot and Ankle Center, LLP, sees practice Web sites as the latest part of a long continuum. In the past, he says if people were looking for a practice, they relied on word of mouth, the Yellow Pages or 411, much of which the Internet has superceded.
“A solid Web presence can validate the practice in somebody’s mind and also give them a true feel for the practice itself,” says Schwarz. “It has really become an extension of the practice or the business as a whole.”

Using The Web Site As A Resource For Patient Education
Lombardi agrees with Schwarz’s assessment. He views a practice site as a kind of ongoing virtual resource patients can use and return to when they need questions answered.
“A lot of podiatrists have an older clientele so if a patient comes in and is diagnosed with something, and given a treatment plan, he or she might go home and not be able to remember what was explained in the office,” points out Lombardi. “The Web site then becomes a great tool to educate that patient’s family members or spouse on what is wrong and what the treatment is going to be.”

“I was really motivated to put an educational aspect into the site,” notes Schwarz. “I want to use our Web site as an educational resource to teach the community about foot and ankle care. If it gets to the point where people need foot and ankle care, we want them to be as informed as possible, and provide them with that care the best that we can.”
Dr. Werber has seen the result of such an approach in his patients. He explains that his patients will see the Web site and go to the office with good questions, seeking further information on their conditions. Dr. Werber adds that patients like the site because they can present to the office with information and “have a better, more informed discussion with the doctor.”

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