The internet is quickly replacing the traditional directory book (e.g. Yellow Pages) for many people. When they’re looking for a doctor, people may use the internet in different ways to find the information they need. There are search engines such as Google and Bing, social networks such as Facebook and online directories such as Yelp and TrueLocal.
Just as it’s been important for your practice to be listed in the traditional directories, it’s important that your practice can be found where people are looking.
What is my practice’s online presence made up of?
Your practice’s online presence is made up of the different places people can find out information about your practice on the internet. Sometimes this information is created by you and sometimes it’s created by others. Even if you haven’t created a website, there may already be information about your practice online!
Some examples of a practice’s online presence are:
- The practice website
- Listings in online directories such as Yelp or Google Maps
- Reviews in online directories
- Mentions or articles in news media
- Listings on social media
- Information in personal profiles of staff
- Information in industry websites
If you want to see if your practice already has an online presence, simply type your practice’s name into a search engine (e.g. Google or Bing) and see what comes up. You may be surprised.
Why is an online presence beneficial?
Your online presence is all about providing a great service to your clients. Whether that’s by providing information, providing new services or giving patients’ new ways to engage with you. Some of the benefits include:
Improved patient communication
When it comes to building relationships with new and existing patients, good communication is key. By using the internet to communicate with your patients, you allow them to access information about your practice when and where they need it.
For example, patients will be able to:
- Find out about the services you offer without having to call the practice
- Find out your opening times and location (including getting directions and public transport options through services such as Google Maps)
- Access information outside of regular office hours
- Access information wherever they are through the use of smartphones and tablets
All of this will help you to provide a quick and simple way to meet your patient’s needs and potentially reduce the amount of time reception staff spend relaying this information over the phone.
Providing new and improved services
Once a basic online presence is established, your website and online channels can also be used to provide additional value by using technology for a self-serve online booking system, an eHealth service using video conferencing or even a live-chat communication option.
Make informed decisions based on data
Another benefit of being online is that you can gather data to help you make decisions about your communications, deliver services and discover more about what’s important to your patients. Much of what happens online is measurable.
For example, you can learn:
- what services the most people want to learn about
- how many people open your emails
- how many people visit your website and where they're from
- what content is most popular on your website
- what time most people are online on Facebook
- what people are saying about your practice online
- ... and that’s just scratching the surface!
If you need to make a decision about a new service or want to learn what patients are interested in, your online channels can provide that to you.
How can I take control of our online presence?
It’s highly likely that your practice already has some sort of online presence. Many practices are surprised to find that there are online reviews of their practice, or that there is already a Facebook listing for their practice.
Taking control of your practice’s online presence means that you can have a say on what people see about your practice. There are four key areas that are worth starting out on. These are:
- Starting with an online strategy
Before you jump in with both feet, it’s worth taking some time to step back and plan how you’re going to use your online presence. Developing a solid strategy will help you identify who you’re communicating with, where you’re going to spend your time and how you’re going to maintain it.
- Creating a website for your practice
Your website should be your home base online. It’s a place where you can control the information that’s published and can also act as a portal to new online services for your clients. This will also be the place where you can control what is published, how it looks and what features it has.
- Claiming and updating any existing listings on directory
Your practice may already exist on online directories and people may already be talking about you too. Doing a search online will help you find these listings and claim them so you can track what’s happening on them, respond to customer queries and make any necessary updates. This also applies to some social networks such as Facebook, Yelp and Foursquare that allow users to create business listings.
- Creating a social media presence
Social media can be a challenge. While it’s free to get started, it still needs time and resources to maintain, address comments and regularly update. Start with a plan before jumping in.