A Bad Practice Web Site Can Deter Potential Patients

January 25, 2011
Marisa Torrieri

Attracting new patients (or turning them off) may be increasingly tied to how your Web site looks and how easy it is to use.

It’s essential for practices (and any business, really) to have a Web site these days.

But what if you have a Web site and your practice still isn’t attracting as many new patients as a doctor’s office down the street?

It might have something to do with how your Web site looks and how easy it is to use.

Having a not-so-great Web site won’t necessarily harm your business. But as consumers become more accustomed to finding out about businesses through the Internet - often starting with listings of names, and then clicking on links - the number of choices available to them can be daunting. And having a Web site that is easy to read and inspires confidence in your care can set you apart from the competition.

A case in point is my own recent experience looking for a specialist to address a specific health concern.
In trying to find a certain kind of practitioner near where I live in New England, I started with my insurer’s Web site, which provided more than 20 names of physicians within six miles of my home. I took a look at the online physician-rating site HealthGrades, and it gave me 14 names, but neither site gave me much more besides location and certification information.

So I plugged the name of the city where I live, plus the type of doctor I was seeking, into my favorite Internet search engine.

The first Web site I came across was such a delight to look at. Above a teal banner bearing the physician’s name were photographs of happy-looking people enjoying outdoor activities like yoga on the beach and jogging. Various links led me to essential information: physicians’ bios, patient and disease information, and insurance information.

For comparison purposes, I also tried another Web site that came up a bit lower in the search engine rankings. As soon as I clicked on the link, I was greeted with an off-putting image of a doctor examining a patient's body part. There were no links to secondary pages, or information about diseases or disorders. Just a big banner with a toll-free number that I could call to make my appointment.

Tell me, which practice do you think I chose?

Consultants and business experts who work with practices on a daily basis have spoken and written about this issue a lot in the last six months, so there’s plenty of free advice out there on how to create a great page.

In a recent dispatch on the subject, physician blogger Randall Wong suggested trying out a personal site before launching a more serious site for your practice.

And in October, healthcare consultant Judy Capko covered the essentials in a blog posting. A good Web site, she says, starts with great design. A professional-looking font and color (translation: not anything too curly or too pink). “The pages of a well-designed Web site should to be easy to read and calming to the eyes,” says Capko. And when it comes to pictures, “no one wants to see clinical or anatomical drawings of body parts.”

I’d like to add to that list “photos of patient body parts in the process of being examined.”

What are your experiences and ideas for good medical practice Web sites? Share your comments below.