The days of static websites are long gone, or they should be. Your website is the digital representation of your medical practice. It should be dynamic — changing with your practice as it grows — to meet your needs and your patients' needs in a meaningful way.
There are many ways to make your website more useful and engaging while also increasing your online visibility. But one of the most important is to make it actionable. By adding interactive tools and features, you can recruit and retain patients, improve patient satisfaction, and boost your reputation.
While you have many options to modernize your website, here are three tools that are not too difficult to implement even for a practice with limited resources.
Engage patients in wellness
mHealth applications are taking off at a staggering rate. There are tens of thousands of these tools to track health indicators and monitor wellness that patients are downloading. According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the number of applications will continue to grow by 25 percent annually, and by 2018, 1.7 billion people worldwide will download a health app. Still, not everyone uses their smartphone to track their health although many people like to have a tool to do so.
You can fill the gap by providing helpful tools on your website using downloadable widgets. Embedding a widget is easy with the right link, but you can always ask your website designer to do it for you. The Centers for Disease Control provides free widgets including BMI calculators, diabetes and pre-diabetes screenings, and a sodium intake quiz. For more widgets, just do a quick Google search (e.g., men's/women's health widgets, diabetes widgets, etc.).
And be sure to let patients know that these tools are now available. If you write a newsletter, are on social media, or send out e-mail updates to patients, include information about the widgets. You might consider suggesting a specific tool like the BMI calculator for some patients. And now you can simply share a link to get them there.
Enable online appointment scheduling
You can schedule an appointment for a haircut online so it's no surprise that patients want to be able to schedule doctor's appointments online. Providing 24/7 access to schedule an appointment will bring physicians into the 21st century.
Offering this option to patients is easier than you might think. Services like ZocDoc allow the practice to tailor online scheduling to meet both practice and patient needs. The practice can offer only selected appointments or let patients choose from any open appointments through integration that may be available with your practice management software. The application can be offered on the practice website through a widget, as well as on the ZocDoc site.
While online scheduling adds a nice level of convenience for existing patients, it is a great for finding new patients. When prospective patients are searching for a new provider online at 8 p.m. on a Sunday, and they come across your site, they can schedule their appointment. According to ZocDoc, about 85 percent of the appointments made on their site are from new patients.
Provide access to a patient portal
Whether you are attesting for meaningful use or not, you need a patient portal. The tools and features available in a portal can help you retain existing patients and recruit new ones. A recent Deloitte study shows that two-thirds of patients say that would switch providers to get access to their medical records online, and another study from Aeffect shows the same number indicate that they would be more loyal to a provider who had an EHR and patient portal.
There is no doubt that this is what your patients want, but many providers still don't offer a portal. If you've put it off, now may be the perfect time to launch yours. Many vendors who received 2014 edition certification for meaningful use have increased portal functionality to meet those requirements. There are even free EHRs that provide integrated portals. An integrated portal can also be faster and easier for your practice to implement. Often, it is just a matter of turning it on and the patients' data is already populated.
Even offering just one of these options can help boost engagement with existing and potential patients. But the more you can do to make your site interactive, engaging, and useful, the better.
Tom Giannulli, MD, MS, is the chief medical information officer at Kareo. He is a respected innovator in the medical technology arena with more than 15 years of experience in mobile technology and medical software development. E-mail him at [email protected].
This article originally appeared in the July/August 2014 issue of Physicians Practice.