How To Build An Effective Web Site

By Brian McCurdy, Associate Editor

Plug “podiatry” or “foot” into a Web search engine and thousands of entries can surface. In order not to get lost in the ocean of Web sites, there are numerous factors to consider. When potential patients have concerns about their feet or need treatment, the Internet may be the first environment to which they turn for information. Indeed, your site may be the first impression patients have of your practice. “A Web site should be a working part of your practice and not just a vanity site,” says Kirk Koepsel, DPM. “It’s like a welcome mat for your patients.” Evidence suggests more people are turning to the Web for medical information and to research ailments and the medical care and medical practitioners they require, according to Trey Hickman, founder and President of the Web design and technology development company Nextology. He says the Harris Poll calls such people cyberchondriacs. According to the Harris Poll, 110 million people look for health information online and 53 percent of those who look for health care information use a portal or search engine, allowing them to search for the health information they want. Gale Wilson-Steele, CEO of the Web design company Medseek, suggests one reason why people turn to the Net for podiatry queries. “It’s not the kind of care that you have to do in an emergency situation,” she says of podiatry. “People have time to research.” Perception Is Everything Web sites can be as varied as the podiatric practices themselves, but those in the know strongly emphasize a professional appearance. Dr. Koepsel, a Fellow of the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons, founded his company in 1999 that develops professional Web sites for physicians, He also maintains his own sites, of Houston, Texas and Dr. Koepsel advises you not to build the site yourself since a professional designer will make the site look more professional. He notes the pros can add many more features than amateurs can and busy podiatrists may not have time to build sites themselves. “Patients really do use the Web site and they expect a professional look and appearance when they visit the doctor’s Web site,” says Dr. Koepsel, Past President of the Texas Podiatric Medical Association. “If you’ve got dancing feet and goofy little kids stuff, it’s not going to present a professional look.” For Hickman, a good site “reflects the image of the clinic or doctor’s office and offers a professional design, easy navigation, patient-friendly language, comprehensive content and updated content that keeps people coming back to rely on the site as a resource. The site should validate the patient’s office visit experience.” In short, let potential patients have an insight into what they can expect at your office and ensure what they see online is not different from what goes on at your office, suggests Dr. Koepsel. Don’t Forget About The Basics That said, some experts agree every Web site should include some fundamental basics. • Basics on the practice. Both doctors and Web designers say a successful site should include some basic information about your practice, like directions to your office, hours and phone numbers. • Put faces with names. The experts agree you should list some biographical information on yourself and any other doctors at your practice so patients or potential patients can match the faces with the names. Dr. Koepsel lists this info on, as does Ira Weiner, DPM. “We are a friendly organization so it’s a friendly site,” says Dr. Weiner of “We wanted it brief and not wordy. We wanted to get to the point.” Wilson-Steele also suggests setting the stage for your rapport with patients by listing a little personal info about yourself, like your hobbies. “If they know that Dr. Smith played soccer, it gives them a connecting point,” she says. “That exchange of information starts with a give and take.” Wilson-Steele says your site can build a relationship with potential patients and let them know about your practice before they have problems which need treatment. Tell Them About Your Career Accomplishments And Podiatry In General • Professional information. While patients want to know the basics of who you are, referring physicians want to see your curriculum vitae (CV) and some articles you’ve published in podiatric magazines. Wilson-Steele suggests publishing the articles separately as well as on your site so a search engine can link to your articles. She says it may also be a good idea to list your insurance carriers on the site. • The lowdown on podiatry. The key is to make new patients feel welcome at your practice and offer them some info on what a podiatrist does, according to Hickman. He agrees it’s critical to describe your services so new patients feel comfortable, noting many don’t understand medicine and need to know who they are seeing and why. Wilson-Steele concurs and emphasizes letting patients know what they can expect when they visit your office and have an initial exam. A brief description of your practice philosophy and how you feel about your patients and practicing medicine can be helpful, according to Wilson-Steele. “Educate the consumer on what a podiatrist does and what to expect,” advises Wilson-Steele. Many doctors, including Amol Saxena, DPM, list info about common podiatric conditions, like Achilles heel and ankle sprains. “It is an important part of my practice not only for generating the one to two referrals a week but also to point patients to educational material,” says Dr. Saxena of his Web site, which includes his CV and published articles. “I think it is a must-have for the community in which I practice.” Dr. Weiner also posts practical information for patients, such as information about podiatric medicine, what patients will experience in the office, financial arrangements, what happens if surgery is suggested, and what people should do if they have questions about treatment or want a second opinion. Some doctors and Web designers suggest posting new patient forms and scheduling information online. Dr. Koepsel has both on his site, emphasizing patients can save time by filling out such forms before they visit your office. Wilson-Steele suggests having billing online and says setting up such a system is not difficult. Avoid Common Web Turnoffs The Internet can open your practice up to more business but sometimes Web sites can feature things that turn off prospective patients. These include ads, which Dr. Koepsel says seem “cheesy” and can degrade the reason you have the site. Marketing too many products online can also be a turnoff, according to Dr. Koepsel. If you wish to sell products via your Web site, do it in a professional manner. Don’t make your Web site appear to be a products site, says Dr. Koepsel. Wilson-Steele recommends against promoting products. “There’s some kind of credibility loss that happens,” she says. When you have products on your site, people may assume the companies promoted in the ads underwrote the site, so your site is not as credible, according to Wilson-Steele, whose company has been designing sites for physicians since 1996. She suggests having a separate site if you want to market products. Hickman advises against having a Web site solely out of ego. “If you’re just doing it because you can, chances are you’re not going to give good information and the site is going to fall out of date,” he says. Make sure you update your site periodically, urge Wilson-Steele and Dr. Weiner. Dr. Will Straw did all the work on Dr. Saxena’s Web site, and still maintains it. He says they update things such as the shoe list and CV at least twice a year. Building A Marketing Buzz Dr. Weiner says his site gets 10 to 15 hits a month, resulting in about one new patient a month for his practice. As for the doctors, Dr. Koepsel says the DPMs he has talked to say their sites increase business and patient perceptions of the practice. He says he built his first site for a doctor in Texas and the doctor said two patients in one week told the doctor they chose him just for his Web site. “Everybody that we have built a Web site for praises us for it,” he says. “Once they use it and understand marketing it, they really understand the value.” Marketing can be an important component of the Web site, according to Hickman. Web sites save time by capturing marketing information. “Keep in mind the fact that this is active, ongoing, that it’s really marketing for your practice,” says Hickman. “A lot of medical professionals don’t realize there is a marketing component involved.” Hickman says the Web does this cheaply for your practice. “Hospitals are very excited about the efficiency this level of technology gives them,” says Wilson-Steele, noting that her company designs many sites for hospitals. Wilson-Steele agrees it’s cheaper to advertise on the Web since she says a good size Yellow Pages ad can cost about $700 a month. “It’s like a business card or ad online,” she says. Dr. Koepsel suggests you disregard the concept of being in the top 10 or 20 on a search engine because it’s more important to market to patients in your area. He says your staff must tell every new patient to visit your Web site and patients will likely talk to others and recommend your site. Key Advice On Choosing A Domain Name “The domain name can be a huge quagmire,” notes Dr. Koepsel. Your domain name is an important concept and should reflect the environment of your practice, he says. Choose a domain name which is short, concise, easy to say and has no special characters. Be careful with the spelling of “Doctor” in the site domain name since patients can spell it as “Dr.,” “Doc,” or other variations. Hickman agrees, recommending a domain name that is not too obscure and can be registered. Having multiple domain names can increase your chances of being found randomly online, advises Dr. Koepsel. The Pros And Cons Of Using E-Mail Be careful about posting your e-mail addresses on your site, warns Wilson-Steele. She cautions against using general e-mail because people outside your state will ask questions, which may violate laws preventing you from practicing in another state. Therefore, don’t waste time with patients outside your marketing area but concentrate on people close enough to visit you. She suggests having secure e-mail addresses which patients can use to contact you. “(E-mail) starts to add another way for patients to get in touch with the doctor. It’s one more level of convenience that he can offer his patients,” says Wilson-Steele. Dr. Weiner lists his e-mail address on his site. He says he doesn’t list phone numbers there so he and his partners are not deluged with calls. Dr. Weiner or another doctor respond to their patients’ e-mails. Obviously, Dr. Weiner notes it’s hard for him to diagnose patients solely over the Internet. Final Notes “(A Web site is) rapidly becoming a necessity and not just a state-of-the-art issue for the practitioner,” says Dr. Koepsel. “For physicians not to have a Web site is a detriment to them.”

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