Optometric Management Tip # 422 - Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Upgrading Your Practice Website
A 2009 survey of larger optometric practices revealed that 23% do not have a website and another 17% have one, but have never updated it. That is a shocking 40%! Indeed, as I review practice websites for consulting clients, I must say most that I see are fairly boring and generic. Kind of obligatory, like “I know I should have a website so I threw this together at minimal cost.” Not one to be holier than thou, I must admit that until recently my own practice website was a rather basic template design. A case of the shoemaker's kids going barefoot.
Your practice website is a vital component of your practice marketing plan and it deserves a considerable investment in time and money. Read on to find out how to make it special and profitable for your practice.
Why does it matter?
The internet has become the primary venue for people to research where to buy services and products. Don't think about the billions of people worldwide who would not be interested in your practice, think about the thousands in your local market who are your potential patients. When they need eye care they log onto Google or their favorite search engine and type the word optometrist plus a city and state. Hopefully, your practice will come up on the list of suggested links and some people will click on your web address. This is how people of all ages today learn about a market category and this usage will continue to increase dramatically. What message are you sending to this huge group of local consumers?
Additionally, your practice website serves as a resource for referrals from your existing patient base. This is probably your largest source of new patients. Typically, a patient who has a good experience at your office tells a friend or relative. The prospect may act right away or maybe later, but eventually he needs eye care and he remembers the name of the doctor or the eye center that his friend gave him. He does a search for that name with the city and hopefully your website jumps right up! You certainly have an advantage if the search word is for your name rather than just “optometrist!”
Finally, think about how you can reinforce your relationship and build loyalty with your patients. If your website offers services and information that are truly valued, your patients will log on to your site. Every time they do so, you have a great opportunity to build your practice image and promote your services. See below for a list of some of the interactive features that can make your website a resource that your patients will want to visit.
There are some very cool interactive features available for your website that will really set your practice apart and drive patients and the public to your site. Some of these features are software plug-ins or links that may require a separate monthly subscription fee and some are free. Typically, you will need a web developer or web hosting company that will work with third party software vendors and will place the links for these features into your website. Ideally, the feature should be seamless and feel like it is part of your website.
Consider these web features.
- Online appointment scheduling. Many practice websites feature an appointment section but the visitor soon finds out that it is just an email form that requests an appointment time and the staff must check availability and either call or email back. That's OK, but true real-time online scheduling does exist and I was surprised to learn that a large segment of people love it. The systems work with your office management software and rules that you set up to show patients available appointment times and allow them to put their name and other information into the system. Your office receives an email notifying your staff that an appointment was made. When I added this feature to my new website, we had two new patients schedule online in a matter of hours and the website address was not even officially released yet.
- Online contact lens ordering. Many practices are now offering this service and it's extremely popular with patients. You can control the lens prices and other rules such as how prescriptions are confirmed, but basically, patients just log onto your site, register and obtain a user name and password, and they can order replacement lenses directly from your lens distributor. The lenses are shipped directly from the manufacturer to the patient's address. Your account is billed for the cost of the lenses and you receive a check for the sale you made online, less a small service fee. Think of the reduction of staff time when they don't have to answer the phone, take down the order, place the order, check in the lenses, call the patient, dispense the product, and accept payment. Plus, patients would really rather order from your office than some big internet company they have no relationship with, as long as it's just as convenient.
- Online history forms. Patients do not like filling out forms at their doctors' offices but you can make that chore much easier and save time in your reception area by making your forms available on your website. The more frequent method is to just post a link to the form in a PDF file and have the patient print it, fill it out by hand and bring it with them to your office. That is good, but you can also use a fillable PDF document that allows the patient to type directly on the form and send it to your office via email. There are even software companies that go further than that by having a fillable form that transfers the data directly into your office management software so it does not need to be rekeyed by your staff.
- Online patient surveys. I've always been a big believer in continual patient satisfaction surveys (see tip #17 http://www.optometric.com/mtotw/tip.asp?tip=17) but last year I switched from snail mail to email. Now we email a thank you note to every patient after an eye exam and we enclose the survey (which can be returned anonymously or with the patient's name through a third party). We also provide a link on our website for the survey as well.
- Online educational videos. In addition to providing our own text descriptions of eye disorders and diagnostic procedures, we provide a video player on our website where the patient can select from a menu of eye conditions and view a short 3D animated video on the topic. The education is enhanced and so is our practice image. Since all of our exam rooms are equipped with a PC and an internet connection, we can also bring up our own website in the office and play a clip that pertains to a patient's needs.
- News and events. I think having a section on your website where you can post what's new at your office is fantastic because it gives a feeling that you are cutting edge and things are always happening. The danger is that you or your staff could lose interest in posting frequent updates. There is nothing worse than reading a Happy Holidays greeting in July or the most recent post was dated many months ago. But if you keep it current, you can develop quite a buzz. Your practice could even join Facebook and your news items could be posted on your wall and you could invite patients to become fans.
Please visit my new website at www.GailmardEyeCenter.com and let me know your thoughts. More next week on designing your practice website.
Best wishes for continued success,
Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Chief Optometric Editor, Optometric Management