Saturday, September 17, 2011

How a doctor’s personal website helps to deliver Information Therapy

As an IVF specialist, I am often inundated with questions. While I would gladly answer all of them, this is sometimes not practical, owing to my busy schedule. This is where my website comes into play. One can find comprehensive information on IVF treatment, success stories of other patients, FAQs, details of my clinic timings, and many more resources. Most of my patients’ doubts are put to rest, even before they come to me for an appointment. A doctor’s website can be a very cost effective tool in delivering Information Therapy.

Not too long ago, most doctors in India were unaware of the concept of an email address! This maybe hard to believe, but it’s true! However, times have changed dramatically, and today most doctors use email regularly. But even that is not enough. If you are a doctor, you need to have a personal website. This rapid pace of change is symbolic of how quickly things are changing in today’s world. In fact, it is my contention that doctors in private practice in India can no longer afford to not have their own website. Just like how you need a telephone line to practice medicine, a website has become an integral part of modern medical practice – and doctors who are not proactive are likely to get left behind!

The key to your success is your ability to keep your patients happy and to provide them with excellent medical care and your website lets you provide many value-added services for your patients. It can provide basic details such as:
• the timings of your clinic
• directions as to how to get to your clinic;
• information on the specialized services you offer;
• why you are better than other doctors
• answers to patients’ commonly asked questions ( FAQs)
• post-procedure instructions

This means you can use your website to serve your patients round the clock without requiring them to call or visit, making your website a valuable support centre. Your website allows you to answer your patient’s queries by email. Patients will always be curious about their ailments, and many will use the internet to find information. Please do not underestimate your patient’s intelligence. Many will spend hours hunting for information, in order to help themselves get better. If they do not have a computer, they can go to the cybercafé. Even illiterate patients do have relatives who can conduct internet searches for them! However, most patients would much rather get information from their own doctor, and if you provide this information on your website, your patients know they can trust it.

Most doctors have now started seeing patients coming with internet printouts of pages and pages of unreliable and irrelevant information. If you put up your own website, you can guide your patients towards reliable sources of information, thus saving your patients the frustration of wading through endless pages of garbage and misinformation! Remember that Indian patients want information about diseases common in India – so they want information on malaria rather than cystic fibrosis. By providing this information, you establish yourself as a credible expert. You can refer patients to your website at the end of the consultation, so they can educate themselves. Patients appreciate this – and word of mouth will help you get more patients.

This is actually a huge opportunity for forward-thinking Indian doctors. There is very little content about health and medicine in Indian regional languages today. Any doctor who is willing to take the time and trouble to set up a website and provide this content in his local language is likely to become a star very soon. This will take some work initially, but this is an investment from which you can reap enormous returns in a short time. Internet penetration in India is increasing by leaps and bounds and Indians have easier access to a mobile phone today than they have to a toilet!

The good news is that it has become very easy to publish in Indian local languages, and because you can use Indian companies to do so, the cost of publishing a website is a fraction of what it would be in the USA. Play to your strengths and make the most of these great opportunities to achieve instant global presence!

Your website can help you to attract new patients. Indian medical care is very cost-effective, and a website is valuable for informing NRIs of your medical expertise. Soon, it will become a routine for patients in India to research about their doctors, as it is in the USA, and your website can help patients to find you. At our website, http://www.DrMalpani.com, we answer over 20 queries a day, as a result of which we get direct patient referrals from all over the world. Remember that internet savvy patients may be slightly different from your average patient. They are well-informed, used to getting second opinions, and can be quite demanding. Most are affluent and know exactly what they want, so they will keep you on your toes!

It is very hard for patients to trust someone they have never seen or met and this is why it is so important that your website should be information-rich and full of content which patients will find of value. If patients understand that you are interested in empowering them with information, they are much more likely to trust you. The more you give away, by being generous with your knowledge and sharing it, the more you will get in return.
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Even though many doctors today understand the importance of having their own website, they often fall victim to procrastination, and do nothing concrete about this. Others are worried that setting up a website is expensive, while some do not know who to contact since many web designers do not have the technical expertise to publish medical websites. In order to address this problem, Plus91 (www.plus91.in), in which I am an angel investor, offers customised websites for doctors, tailored to individual preferences, for as little as Rs 10,000 per year – and they can publish this so that your website is live within just 2 days. You can see what your website will look like at www.websitefordoctors.in.

Ideally, all doctors and clinics should have their own websites, where their patients can find reliable updated information on their health problems. Your website will showcase your talent, and help you grow your practice ethically, so you do not have to worry about giving cuts and kickbacks. This will help your patients as well, who will become aware of the latest medical facilities you offer. The transparency that the web imposes will help to improve your relationship with your patients, by allowing much more open communication between them and you. While it may seem that email is impersonal, the truth is that patients can be far more communicative by email than they are face to face because they do not have to worry about how many other patients are waiting, and can pour out their hearts to you! Interacting with your patients online will help you to become more patient-centric and empathetic, because you will get a much better idea of what your patients are thinking about and what they want. It will save you time as well, since once you upload answers to common queries as FAQs, your patients will not feel the need to ask you the same questions repeatedly.

Once you have your own website, you can start exploring social media (Web 2.0) to reach out proactively to your patients. Tools such as Facebook and Twitter are very useful in projecting yourself as an authority – make the most of them!

You need to have realistic expectations of what your website can do for you. In India, the number of internet users is not yet as high as in the USA, so don’t expect patients to start pouring in the day your website goes live! Just having a website is not enough – remember that there are over a million websites out there. You need to promote your website actively. Print your website address (URL) on your business cards and your stationery and display it in your waiting room. Encourage patients to visit your website – most will be happy to follow their doctor’s orders! And if your website has content which is useful to them, and which is updated on a regular basis, many will happily visit it regularly and even refer many of their friends to your site as well.

You can also design a monthly ezine, to keep patients coming back to your site. Your staff should constantly be on the lookout for interesting pieces for the next month’s issue. This creates a direct link to your website, but does require commitment to keep the content fresh. You can employ a webmaster to do this for you, to ensure you do a good job. Your website is an image of your clinic so make sure you do a professional job. Also, ensure that you reply promptly to queries and emails. It’s a good idea to check out competing websites, so you can see what they are doing, but don’t blindly copy their content. Your website can help to keep you on your toes both professionally, since you need to update your medical knowledge to provide fresh content for your website and to answer queries received by email from patients in all parts of the world, which means this is a great method of Continuing Medical Education (CME); and technologically, since you will need to keep abreast of computer and internet technology. A website is valuable even for doctors in rural areas, who are often cut off from the rest of the world. This is a useful way of keeping in touch and contributing to the medical knowledgebase.

Some doctors are worried that having their own website may be misconstrued as a form of advertising. However, the internet is a very valuable means of educating patients, and doctors need to be in the forefront of providing reliable information to their patients. After all, if we do not take the responsibility for educating patients, then who will? The future of medical care is e-healthcare, with the promise of online medical records, online pharmacies, telemedicine, patient education, and an ever-expanding list of exciting opportunities. The opportunity to help our patients navigate the wealth of information on the World Wide Web and better educate themselves is now in our hands. We owe it to ourselves and to our patients. As a doctor, if you do not rise to this challenge, your friendly competitor down the road will do so and take away all your patients!

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