How to help prospective patients find a practice online
■ A practical look at information technology issues and usage
A recent survey found that patients are looking for physicians online, but they are having problems finding them.
Harris Interactive conducted a survey on behalf of Insider Pages, an online directory that just added a physician finder feature. The survey, released in January, found that more than half of adults agree it's hard to find basic information about a doctor online. Seventy-one percent say they wish doctors would share more information about their medical backgrounds and specialties.
It's not that a doctor can't be found online. Along with Insider Pages, there are plenty of online directories, including the American Medical Association's DoctorFinder, that list individual information.
Often, the problem is that for physicians who don't have websites or some other online presence they have established, their appearances on the Web are much more scattershot. Your name and information on a directory might come up right away in a Google search. Or it might not.
Experts say physicians without an established Web presence should use Google to determine if they can be found by prospective patients.
Chris Hiland, president and CEO of Wahlstrom, a marketing placement and analytics firm, said doing a Google search for both your name and the name of your practice will help you find where you are listed and which sites are most prominent -- usually those on the first page of a Google search. Whoever is doing the search should open those directory sites and check them. Often, they contain mistakes, such as wrong phone numbers and addresses.
Business listings in various sites such as Yelp, Google Places or FourSquare, as well as profile pages in physician finder sites, usually are at the top of a search, and those listings can be claimed by the owner of the businesses that are listed. Claiming ownership is usually as simple as clicking on a link that says "claim your listing." Claiming the listing gives you the ability to make edits or additions and possibly add a link to a personal website.
Manage your content
Because those existing listings don't give all the information patients are looking for, physicians may want to create their own content on a site that they, and they alone, manage, such as a personal website or Facebook page.
Scott Creamer, owner and president of The Screamer Co., an Austin, Texas-based advertising and marketing firm, said physicians need a website that has, at a minimum, contact information, specialty and focus, schooling and a basic biography.
It doesn't have to be too long, he said. In fact, he said, too much information could turn patients off. He said to think of it as an "elevator speech" that tells the patient a little bit about how they practice medicine.
John Luginbill, CEO of The Heavyweights, an Indianapolis-based advertising firm that works with health care organizations, said physicians should think about who they want to find them and why. They should make sure the message they convey is targeted to that demographic.
While creating a Facebook page is the easiest thing a practice can do, creating a website doesn't have to be much more difficult or expensive. Experts said it would be even more effective to have both.
There are various sites online that allow anyone to create a website at little or no cost. One common site is Wordpress.com, a program used by many bloggers that provides templates to set up a website, Luginbill said. WordPress sites are free, and they are crawled by Google, a techie way of saying they have a good shot of showing up on the first page of a search for your name or practice.
Drive the traffic
Finally, physicians need to drive traffic to the Web page. It's unlikely that prospective patients will find them on their own, since many will be searching for doctors by location, not name.
Going back to those online listings you previously edited and adding links to your personal Web page is an effective way of bringing potential patients to your website who may not know your name, experts said.
Eric Peacock, general manager of Insider Pages, said the recent survey his company conducted with Harris found that most people look for physicians based solely on their location. Patients starting at a physician finder would do a query on physicians in a particular geographic area.
Once that list is generated, the patients click the profiles of those physicians they are interested in. And from the profile page, they would click the link to the physicians' personal Web page if they want more information.
Peacock said physicians also can increase the likelihood that their profiles will be clicked on by encouraging existing patients to leave reviews.
Profiles of physicians for whom there are reviews are clicked on "by far" more than those with no reviews, he said.
Luginbill said the receptionist at your practice should be fluent in how review sites operate and also should know which of your patients are the most likely to leave positive reviews on them. He or she can encourage more reviews by talking to patients about it as they enter or leave the practice.
"Everything you put out leads back to the 'about me' pages" on personal websites, Luginbill said. The more links to your website, the higher it will be when a patient searches for you on Google.