Make the Most Out of Medical Advice Websites

June 15, 2012

Is answering a stranger’s medical question online a waste of your time? Not necessarily. Here’s one way to do this profitably.

It's easy to put up a basic website for your medical practice. One that's really just an overgrown business card. I see it all the time.

OK, some nice pictures and fancy graphics make it look better, but unless the website brings patients in the door, it's a waste of time, money, and energy.

Content marketing is a popular buzz phrase in marketing today. It means providing "in-demand" information for your customers, usually before they walk in your door.

If customers or patients read what you've written, watch videos you've made, or otherwise form an early bond of trust with you, they'll be happier, more compliant, and stick with you longer.

The short-term benefit? It gets them into your practice.

One problem doctors have is coming up with ideas for what content to put on their practice website to accomplish this goal.

We quickly forget how much knowledge we have and how even the most rudimentary tidbits of that knowledge can be dramatically helpful to a patient searching for answers.

A powerful way to create relevant information and content for your website visitors is by answering questions. You can do this in your office and collect and track common questions. But there are some online ways to do this, where the questions are automatically generated.

Several online companies, recognizing this important way of providing content that attracts people, have created Q and A websites that offer free advice.

As a physician, you can create a profile, log on, and start answering questions that patients submit. Those answers are then publicly available for everyone to read.

Examples of these sites include: avvo.com, healthtap.com, and answers.com. (I'll let you explore these sites on your own - each one is a little different.)

I've used all three and can offer some tips on how to get the most out of any time you spend on them.

1. Before answering a single questions, approach the process with the right perspective

What I mean by that is, focus more on the process and the writing rather than comprehensively solving an individual online patient's medical problem.

It should be obvious that you can't treat someone online, but some of the language on these sites probably leads patients to think they're really getting treatment, despite disclaimers to the contrary.

View the stream of constantly updated questions as a window into your patients' minds.

Think to yourself, "Oh, these might be unspoken questions and attitudes that my own patients have."

2. Look for questions that you can answer with general educational information

You'll find out quickly that many of the questions are very vague, strange, poorly worded, or unintelligible. There's value in seeing that, of course, but it may not help reach the goal of promoting your practice.

Find questions that match your goals of educating a potential patient.

For example, "My mom had nose surgery. Do you think the surgeon did a bad job?", may not be the best question to answer. The asker's goal is obviously not education.

Even more vague questions like, "I have big toe pain, what's causing it?" can be answered in a general, educational format. Try to find more specific questions if you can.

Do not get long-winded. You want to practice giving concise, valuable educational information without fluff or medical jargon.

3. Put these question-and-answer websites to work for you.

Finally, you're not doing this for fun and giggles. You're running a business.

Get clarity about what you'll do to capitalize on all this energy and time you spent answering this stranger's question.

Some sites have built-in processes for promoting your answers online to get traffic to your website.

For example, avvo.com has a widget you can put on your own website to feature questions and answers you've published. It's automatically updated.

Most sites let you share the fact that you've answered questions on social media. It's one of my favorite ways to use this method of practice promotion.

Each time I answer a question, I post it to Twitter, which updates my Facebook Fan Page as well. This tells potential and current patients that you're knowledgeable, engaged, and helpful (sounds like trust-building, right?).

Have you tried these online question and answer sites? Some docs I've talked to are apprehensive about either legal concerns or see it as a waste of time.

What about you? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Find out more about C. Noel Henley and our other Practice Notes bloggers.