Why doctors should consider having an online presence

Welcome to the 21st Century where any information, from the sublime to the ridiculous, is available at one’s fingertips.  

No one is too old, too young or even too technophobe to access the world wide web where information as random as weather forecasts, stock quotes, movie reviews and sporting scores are available 24/7.

As a medical practitioner, your patients are among those who are constantly using the Internet to self-diagnose and conduct research on medical conditions, surgical procedures and different treatment options. And while these“research” options are available, your patients should have this information presented to them by their treating physician rather than relying on random websites. Social media platforms such as Facebook are also used to enquire and read reviews written about local doctors and some of these may not always be to our advantage.

Therefore it is essential for you, as a medical practitioner, to manage and control your own online presence. Doing so will ensure that your content appears in the search results when a patient Googles your name. Don’t leave yourself at the mercy of online content about yourself that is generated from business directories, medical review sites and articles that feature your name.  These platforms can be misleading or supply incorrect information about your practice.

Doctors are often under the false impression that having a website is advertising and therefore illegal. This is not the case. A website should be seen as an extension of your practice and a platform for you to communicate with a specific audience – your patients.

What is an online presence?
It refers to you creating content about yourself on the Internet, either on a website, blog or social media platform. Should you feel confident enough to engage on Facebook and Twitter with your patients, it is essential that you take the time to familiarise yourself with the latest MPS (Medical Protection Society) guidelines and pitfalls before “socialising”. The guidelines can be downloaded from the Internet if you Google “MPS social media guidance”.  You will find that many international opinion leaders are motivating doctors to get involved on social media, but at the same time to be professional and careful when doing so.

How does an online presence benefit you as a practitioner?
Don’t view an online presence as advertising and an opportunity to gain more patients (which many doctors don’t need), but rather as a tool to make your life easier. Here are some recommendations for going online:

Control your online presence
Having a LinkedIn and Google+ presence, and perhaps a very basic website will vastly improve your Google rating and direct Internet searches to your own content before directing it to business directories and reviews.

Communicate with your patients

  • Provide your patients with an e-mail platform so that they can use the correct channel should they wish to lodge an official complaint or enquire to make a booking.
  • Make downloadable documents available such as:
    • A “new patient” form to fill out prior to their first visit.
    • Informational documents about how to prepare themselves before a procedure and what to expect after the procedure.
    • Cholesterol and diabetic diet sheets and other relevant information.
    • Your billing protocols.
  • Promote a specific area of interest that you might have such as ADD, diabetics or dietary information.
  • Promote your own expertise in certain procedures that you perform.
  • Share content or video material on medical conditions and procedures that you want your patients to see.

Add a map and directions to your practice, whom to phone during office hours, after hours, etc.
Have an online appointment schedule
Create a marketing platform for your practice

  • Add a patient testimonials page or a blog for you to discuss valid content with your audience.

How does this benefit your patients?
Apart from the above benefits, a patient wants confirmation that you are the right person to see. If you specialise in a certain area such as aesthetic medicine, or if you are perhaps a plastic surgeon, they want to see pictures of your work and they want to read patient testimonials to make them feel safe and comfortable that you are the right doctor to consult for their particular healthcare concern.

How do you create a quick and easy online presence?

  • Get online and create a free social profile on LinkedIn and Google+. This is your first step to taking ownership of your content.
  • Don’t venture into Twitter and Facebook accounts unless you have familiarised yourself with the MPS recommendations regarding social media interactions with your patients. Also make sure this suits your personality and that you are confident enough to engage in a public forum.
  • Create a quick and easy free website for your practice using a platform such as Wix.com or consider Medsites.co.za. I tried this and managed to create a very basic website within ten minutes, excluding major content.
  • Create a free blog site, which is similar to a website and sometimes easier to get started on.

This is how easy it was to create a basic website on Wix.com:

  • Step1: Visit Wix.com and sign in.
  • Step 2: Click on “create your own website”.
  • Step 3: Choose a template under “Health and Wellness”.
  • Step 4: Watch the one minute video and start adding your content. It really is user-friendly.

If you don’t have the time or know-how, contact Medsites or visit their website athttps://medsites.co.za. They will have a cost effective solution for you that comes with content writing, web design, hosting and much more.

The main reason that we, as doctors, need to consider an online presence is to control our own content and use the platform to communicate with our patients. Also, it provides our patients with access to basic information and a portal through which they can direct any complaints or queries that they might have around certain procedures. Most doctors are already giving patients printouts of certain protocols to follow before procedures. Why not make this accessible for download on your website?

– Dr Niel Oets

niel@medprax.co.za | www.medprax.co.za

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