Is Your Website Keeping Pace with Today?s Patient?

We see a lot of websites in our line of work at eDoctors. Not only do we manage hundreds of them as unique businesses, but we work with thousands of customers on their online marketing and, as such, consult closely with them to ensure their websites benefit their marketing needs rather than inhibit them.

It’s not uncommon to hear one of our team members exclaim, “This website is stuck in the ’70s!” (Some of our own sites seem to be stuck there, too!) Of course there aren’t actually any websites from the 1970s, but we tend to think of Internet years as we think of dog years—with a ratio that is probably 1 to 7. In other words, if there is a website that is 5-6 years old in Internet years, it is equivalent to being about 35-40 years old in human years.

A lot has changed for the human race since the 1970s, but perhaps even more has changed for the Internet in just the last five years. Changes have been particularly dramatic in the health space. As medical practices seek to grow, we thought it would be important to discuss how your website also needs to grow with you. Your website needs to evolve to keep pace with your patients’ expectations and thus ensure that it supports your business needs.

Modes of Web Access Have Expanded
Five years ago more than 95 percent of visitors to a website were coming from a desktop computer. Today that number has dropped to roughly 50 percent and continues to fall. The use of mobile phones and tablet devices for accessing the Internet has exploded with astonishing speed. In the US alone, the 2013 holiday shopping period saw a 50 percent rise in purchases made via mobile devices as compared to 2012. More than 60 percent of shoppers reported that they used a mobile device to help them make decisions about their holiday purchases even if they ended up making the purchase in a store (Stambor, January 9, 2014).

Consumers use mobile devices in the same way to make decisions about healthcare providers. If they can’t easily access your site via their mobile phone or tablet, you are losing them—and that means you’re losing roughly 50 percent of your potential patient base.

How do you attract and engage those potential patients who are using different devices to surf the Internet for the right healthcare provider? Use a website design that adapts to those various devices. There are a number of different ways this can be accomplished technologically these days, from a dedicated mobile app to a website design the responds automatically based on which device the user is coming from (called “responsive design”). There are pros and cons to each method, but if you are looking for the simplest to manage, go with a site template that adapts automatically to the device.

The Value of Fresh and Educational Content
The vast majority of medical practice websites from five years ago simply served as static calling cards for your office. The site included a few pictures, a description of the doctor(s), the address of the office and maybe a list of services offered. You could probably count the number of site pages on a single hand. This type of website will no longer cut it for two very important reasons:

1. Your patients. Yes, they need the basic information up front, but they are also expecting your site to provide them with both educational content as well as experiential content. Your patients want detailed articles about the services you offer—what is involved with each procedure, the expected recovery times or outcomes, and what other patients have experienced—so they can make informed decisions about their healthcare. Be the source of the information they seek!

2. Search engines, particularly Google. A number of changes have been made in the last few years regarding how websites rank in search engines. The search engines are now looking for sites that have fresh information, carry strong social signals—with links to Facebook and Twitter pages or a blog—and demonstrate a high degree of in-depth, credible and accurate content. As you approach a redesign of your site, make sure you choose a design that allows you to change and update the content of your site easily and often.

The Growth of Interaction and Engagement
Just as there is new demand for fresh and in-depth Web content, there is growing demand for patients to be able to interact “directly” with healthcare providers via the Web. This interaction can involve a lot of different things, and some of it will need careful consideration due to HIPAA and other regulations. However, there are a number of ways you can encourage interaction with your users that are simple and do not cross any HIPAA boundaries.

For instance, by adding video of your office and/or instructional videos that help patients understand their conditions, you can provide significant value to your site visitors. In addition, before-and-after photos make a great tool for demonstrating success and helping prospective patients understand the process of care.

There are additional interaction tools that can be implemented but you should ensure that they are done so in a HIPAA-compliant manner. You can easily build interaction into your site by including an online appointment scheduling feature that offers 24/7 access. An online scheduling tool will offer appealing interactive convenience for patients and will also help reduce phone time for your busy staff.

Another interactive feature that can be added to your site with minimal effort or trouble is a Q&A forum. A Q&A forum can improve user engagement by allowing for twoway communications—site visitors can post general medical questions that you answer weekly and can also further establish you as a great resource in your field of expertise. A Q&A can also function as a public relations tool. When you answer questions with kindness and professionalism, you demonstrate your knowledge as well as your compassionate “bedside” manner.

Advancing Your Site into the Future
As the use of technology in the healthcare space evolves even further over the next few years, you will be able to advance along with it by adding increasingly more sophisticated features to your website. These more advanced features might include online bill pay, records management, or true one-on-one interaction with patients, all of which will require integration with your patient-management software and careful adherence to privacy regulations.

The Internet will continue to evolve at a rapid rate. You can’t expect to stand still and continue to benefit in the ways you did in the past. However, by integrating some of the simpler design changes we’ve mentioned here to make your practice more accessible from anywhere, any time, you can grow your practice and send your patients the message that you are staying current with advancing technology.

Remember, you will get the most mileage out of your website by using it as an interactive marketing and communications tool that is more than just a static calling card for you and your brand.