There is no question that the internet has changed how we obtain information as consumers. The internet has become the primary resource for consumers comparing and shopping for everything from cars to dental equipment. Because of its worldwide forum, the internet has also provided dental practices a unique opportunity to showcase themselves on a stage much grander than any traditional print format. It is critical that you begin this project with a clear vision of what you hope to achieve with your site. In short, this vision will determine how much effort, time, and how many resources you should allot to creating your practice’s site. The following is a list of considerations in practice website design.
Goal of the site
It goes without saying that every project should begin with an end result in mind—your practice’s website design is no different. Is your practice a new office or location with a main goal of attracting new patients, or do you have a mature, referral-based practice? Addressing this important question will help to determine the audience for the written and graphics content of your site, and assist in making administrative decisions with regard to participation in directory services or search engine optimization. An established, referral-based practice is not as likely to benefit from such services, whereas a new practice seeking growth will place an emphasis on participation in these services.
Customization of the site
Many companies offer a generic template for practice websites; they will input your specific contact information, credentials, etc. Other companies offer complete customization of the site from graphics to written content. Which option is best suited for your practice depends upon how your site will be used. For those who are simply looking for an “online business card” design to initially elicit a prospective patient’s phone call, the generic template is more than adequate. However, most practices and patients will be better served by a completely customized site. This option allows total control over homepage design—a crucial element to any site design since this is the patient’s first impression of your practice. Written content also can be personalized to reflect your specific practice philosophy and help create the desired image of your practice. Additionally, content can be edited in a similar fashion to a document created using word processing software. The net result of this effort is a website tailored to your practice, your patients, and the specific patient profile you are trying to attract. These companies provide their services at a substantially higher cost, but the old adage of “you get what you pay for” rings true in this case.
Security! Security! Security!
Perhaps the one disadvantage to the prevalent role the internet plays in our society is the anonymous nature of those using it. For those with the time, education and inclination, the internet provides the perfect opportunity to anonymously create a little mayhem in the lives of the rest of us by “hacking” or otherwise compromising the security of private and sensitive information. With today’s emphasis on HIPPA compliance and patient privacy, the importance of this aspect of your practice’s website cannot be understated. It is true that almost anyone can create a website; however, with the potential high consequences of a breach of your website’s security and patient information, I strongly recommend working with a company that provides reliable multi-layered security for your site. Email accounts that will be used to collaborate with other doctors on interdisciplinary cases, send digital radiographs, or exchange information with insurance companies should be encrypted to ensure security.
Website Follow Up
Prior to launching the final version of your website, it is critical to have systems in place to monitor and evaluate the utilization of the site. Important information to collect and track includes: utilization by existing patients, overall traffic to the website, search engine placement (if participating in directory services or search engine optimization), and subjective comments/suggestions from patients who have visited the site. Additionally, it is important to find out how new patients locate the site and have a system in place to answer email inquiries into your practice and services. Once this information is collected, a careful review will allow you to evaluate whether your internet strategy is reaping benefits for your practice, and make any necessary modifications to the site.
Like any other aspect of business, developing an effective practice website demands careful planning in its development, monitoring of its daily utilization, and evaluation of the net contribution to your practice’s success. Working with a professional or company specializing in medical/dental website design will help ensure that each of the above considerations is addressed, and that an attractive, informative, and effective website is created for your practice.