Dos And Don'ts
Do be realistic.
Do keep your site up to date. Make sure
you look in at least once a month to take down
outdated advisories and information.
Do pick a catchy web address one
that's easy to remember and doesn't need to be
spelled when spoken.
Do spread the word about your site. Include
your web address in the office voicemail message.
Add it to office letterhead, prescription slips,
posters and follow-up appointment cards.
Don't post anything too personal about
yourself. Keep your pet photos and holiday snaps
for your MySpace page.
Don't replace face-to-face visits with
your website. Your site is for basic info only,
and this should be made clear to patients.
Every business should have a website.
A doctor's practice is a business. Ergo, your practice
should have a website. Right?
Well, maybe. Before you run out
and put that syllogism into practice, consider the stories
of two Ontario docs who took the website plunge
with two very different results.
UPS & DOWNS
Hamilton cardiologist Dr Greg Curnew is a doc with big
ideas. Twelve years ago he started LIFE (Lifestyle Intervention
For Ever), a cardiac patient support group he runs out
of a United church one Friday each month. A few years
later he added a website (www.healthcorner.ca) with
diet and exercise advice, as well as detailed information
on diseases and procedures. But while LIFE's been a
blockbuster success, Dr Curnew admits the website's
been mostly a drain both on his time and his
pocketbook. "It's a big commitment," he says. "I'm not
really trained to update and manage it myself."
Fastforward to Ottawa, 2005. Family
doc Dr Robert Eaton noticed his practice was getting
a ton of calls about the same stuff over and over: "When
are you open?," "Do you call in refills?", "Are you
taking new patients?"
The practice needed one place where
patients' FAQs could be answered, leaving the secretaries
free to devote their time to more important tasks. For
Dr Eaton, a practice website seemed like the ideal solution.
His no-frills website (mydoctor.ca/drroberteaton)
was launched that year and almost immediately started
easing pressure on his admin staff by cutting down on
phone calls. "The secretaries really notice the difference,"
He recounts one of his website's
recent success stories. "Last year, we had the flu shots
quite late and we were flooded with calls asking if
they were ready," he recalls. They put a message on
their voicemail telling patients to check the vaccine
status on the website. "When the vaccines were ready,
we updated the site to let patients know, and they started
coming in for their shots."
So why did these two docs have such different website
experiences? Both MDs agree that the key to a successful
practice website is keeping things simple, and that
means asking yourself two things: how and what.
Here are some really easy tips
to get you the useful, time-saving practice website
of your dreams.
1. How do I get started?
There are a lot of tools out there to help you build
a website. Some are as easy as setting up an email account,
others require much more tech-savvy and even (gasp)
knowledge of HTML.
But since simple is our mantra,
we recommend you forget all that, follow Dr Eaton's
lead and opt for a page at the CMA's mydoctor.ca. A
sort of MySpace for doctors, it's free for all CMA members
and makes building a webpage mostly a fill-in-the-blanks
process, with pre-fabricated templates for your office
hours, directions, health links and other relevant info.
The skill level here is low and it produces a straightforward
website with no ads.
Dr Curnew's site is a more complicated
affair, designed by a pro. The trouble with this, he
discovered, is after the pro goes away you're left with
the job of maintaining a pretty complicated site.
2. What should I include on
You've got your site, now you need to figure out what
should go there. Ask your staffers what questions they
get asked the most and address the ones you can on the
website. Here's a list of the main things you should
Hours and directions Include
clinic hours and directions with a link to a map. List
phone numbers for hospitals, out-of-hours clinics or
local health hotlines.
Pre-visit instructions Explain
tests you commonly do, so patients are prepared and
appointments run smoothly. Tell them how to dress, remind
them if they need to bring a sample and anything else
they should expect.
Extra costs Spare patients
unpleasant surprises by listing prices for common uninsured
Practice policies Spell
out your practice's rules, stuff like prescription renewals,
whether you're taking new patients, how to go about
getting copies of medical records, etc.
Advisories and advice If
there's something going around, put a note on the site
explaining the symptoms and what patients can do to
alleviate them. You can also post brief "notes from
the physician" when drugs are pulled from the market.
Medical links Post links
to your favourite doctor-approved health websites, including
local support groups.
Community message board
If you're involved in local goings-on, post your community
calendar. Advertise upcoming events open to the public,
like health fundraisers or conferences you're involved
Disclaimer The info on your
site can never replace a real visit. Make that clear
to visitors. Mydoctor.ca includes disclaimers in its
The CMA has a set of guidelines
for online communications available at policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/PolicyPDF/PD05-03.