This is a guest post from Aditya Patkar, Marketing Director, Plus91.
I met a doctor socially the other day, and we had a very interesting conversation about his practice. He has published a website with the help of Plus91 Technology’s Website For Doctor's initiative , and we were discussing the merits of a doctor using the Internet for reaching out to patients.
His first worry was: doesn't this amount to advertising? Because a website is personal digital real estate, he felt this was fine, but was very uncomfortable about using social media to reach out, because he felt this was unethical. I agree that flagrantly advertising and singing praises about yourself may be unethical, but not informing people about your services is also downright unethical ! Imagine a poor patient with a brain tumour who is forced to travel miles in order to talk to a good neurologist , just because the neurologist in his neighborhood doesn't bother to let anyone know about what he does!
Doctors in India are in short supply – don’t they have a responsibility and duty to let people know about their expertise, so that it can be used more efficiently ?
We then started talking about how his website has made a difference to his practice.
a. He now could interact with his patient via the site
b. He could easily give directions to his clinics and his timings by directing people to the site , which had all the information patients needed, including a google map. This saved his patients a lot of time and energy – and his staff did not have to keep on repeating the same directions to all his new patients !
c. The website did convey that he is a serious up-to-date professional, and his patients appreciates this.
Did it get him new patients? The ability of a website to do this depends directly on the web traffic coming to the site, and because his site was fairly new, the numbers were still small, so it was hard to say if this has had a significant impact. If he promotes his website effectively, it is common sense that it is bound to help him attract new patients ! It’s always hard to judge the return on investment ( ROI) on a website , since it takes time for a website to grow ! It needs to be nurtured carefully – and doctors who do this will find this a very cost effective option ! Even one new patient can help him to recover the cost of a year’s hosting ! However, he is reluctant to spend the money to promote his website ( using a search engine optimisation – SEO - firm) , so it’s possible that his website may not help him to grow his practice, making this a self-fulfilling prophecy !
His skepticism arose from the fact that in his experience, when patients search for a doctor, they usually ask a friend or a family member for a recommendation or a referral. Patients may do research online to find out more about the doctor, but not many patients in India today use the internet as a tool to find a doctor. , However , as time goes by, this is likely to change quickly, because many people change cities when they switch jobs; and few have a family physician they can trust. It’s becoming increasingly common for urban Indian patients to use the internet to select a medical specialist to help them get the best medical care.
Social media has a very important role to play, because it is the digital version of “word of mouth” marketing. Let’s take a doctor who specializes in arthroscopic knee surgery. If all his colleagues on twitter, facebook and orkut feeds know about this, they can create a lot of buzz for him. Anytime someone asks these people about knee surgery , they will be sure to say, “Hey , why don't you go in for mini incision surgery and avoid the big scar ? I know a guy who does this and his website is …..”. Here your website becomes a tool which allows others to refer their friends to you easily. If you have videos on your website displaying your surgical skills, as well as patient testimonials, this allows you to build your prospective patient’s confidence in your expertise, and helps to enhance your credibility !