The Private Practice Website: Which Solution is Right for Your Practice?
By Tannus Quatre PT, MBA
The Internet is many things. To some it is a powerful educational tool, to others it’s an entertainment haven, and to many its primary importance is as a communication portal. Regardless of how and why we use the Internet, it is indeed these things and more, and its relevance in our lives will undoubtedly continue to grow at an increasing pace – no matter who we are.
For physical therapists in private practice, the Internet can, and should, play a role that is as important to the care we provide as it is to the success of our businesses. Many of us recognize that the Internet can be a powerful marketing tool for a private practice while at the same time serving as an equally relevant resource for our patients. Do you realize though, that the Internet also has the ability to create a sense of community around our clientele? And perhaps even a source of operational efficiency which can reduce the cost of care?
In this article, we will examine three tiers of Internet existence for the physical therapist in private practice. We will explore the online brochure, the online resource, and the online community, looking specifically at the main features of each, with the intent of providing you with the information needed to develop an online presence that is right for your practice.
The Online Brochure
The online brochure is by far the most common application of the private practice website. In the online brochure, a website is used to promote services, introduce staff, and provide contact information. Now a standard for small businesses of any industry, the online brochure is one of the first places a potential client looks to ensure that a business is reputable. The online brochure provides basic information and generally serves to reassure those considering making contact with a practice, but does little by way of interaction with visitors. The online brochure is considered by some to be the minimum standard for a private practice who wishes to maintain a longstanding brand presence in a market.
The most important elements of a website as an online brochure are:
- A simple home page that provides general information
- A services page that outlines the services available
- A staff page that introduces your visitors to each staff member
- A contact page that provides basic contact information, driving directions, and a map to the facility
The Online Resource
The private practice website as an online resource is growing in popularity due to the efficiency gains that can be achieved both by the patient as well as the practice. Many patient resources are highly conducive to electronic media, making them a natural fit for online access. Online resources primarily address two areas of information: (1) Patient forms, and (2) patient education, both of which are described below.
Patient Forms. Nearly all forms that have been traditionally completed in the private practice waiting room can be downloaded from a practice website. This simple feature serves to reduce paper demands on the practice, and allows for streamlined patient intake. Everything including patient face sheets, medical questionnaires, HIPAA disclosures, and financial policies can easily accompany a patient to their initial visit read, signed, and ready for delivery.
Savvy websites include content management systems which allow patients to complete and sign forms electronically, submitting them directly into practice management software, eliminating the need for paper anywhere in the transaction. This has yet to achieve widespread adoption, but look for it over the coming years as one of the single best efficiency gains for the management of patient information.
Patient Education. Patient education materials are also highly conducive to online media, making these materials easily accessible to patients at their convenience. By hosting online materials through the practice website, patients can efficiently access exercise plans, diagnostic information, or safety instruction without requiring the time and cost associated with on-demand production by clinical or office staff.
A number of companies have developed interactive patient education materials which allow patients to view videos of prescribed exercise programs, and even log their progress with home programs into a web interface. This is an area where widespread growth is expected over the coming years in the evolution of the private practice website.
The Online Community
Gone is the day where social networking and online communities are relegated to dating services and file sharing operations. Through an explosion in social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, familiarity with, and reliance on, online communities has become a staple of modern culture. It is likely that as the Internet ages, social interaction through online communities will become a standard in the consumer-to-business relationship – health care included.
Online communities are built by connecting persons with common backgrounds or similar interests, even though they may never meet face-to-face. The business benefit of the online community is that visitors have cause to return, creating a “stickiness” around a service, program, or business. The ability for visitors to receive constantly updated information, connect with new friends, or view new pictures or videos is a great driver of online activity, and holds much potential for private practice websites.
Private practices are a fertile ground for development of the online community as patients groups are largely homogenous and thus interested in the same type of information. Online communities can take the form of:
- Online patient support groups who discuss common diagnoses, procedures, or treatments
- A private practice blog moderated and authored by staff therapists, with the ability for patients to comment and post to topics of interest
- An online Q & A forum where patients can ask questions of staff therapists anonymously and free of charge
- Organization of community activities and events such as exercise groups, day hikes, or sports clubs
Deciding which online solution is right for your practice requires an understanding of the impact that it would likely have on your clientele, your operations, and your overall business strategy. An online brochure may not be enough of an online presence to compete with the robust practices in your area, but perhaps building an online community may require more resources than you are willing to put forth. It could be that the placement of your patient forms online is all that is needed to provide your patients with some additional efficiency while creating a significant time and cost savings to your practice. Only you can determine which online solution is right for your practice, and hopefully the ideas presented in this article will make finding the best fit for your practice a bit easier than you thought.
Article reprinted from the May 2009 issue of Impact, with permission of the Private Practice Section, APTA.