Internet Marketing 101 for Gastroenterologists

What do gastroenterologists need to know before creating a website for their practice?

The first thing to consider when developing an online marketing strategy for a gastroenterology practice is the competitive differential advantage, or how your practice is better than other GI groups, says Delbert Chumley, MD, FACG. Requirements that will give you a competitive edge include are those that are important to and perceived by the patient, unique from other providers, and sustainable. One must also consider the challenges of the coming years, including greater transparency on prices and quality, demonstrated recognition on customer value, the need to be interactive with patients, and the desire of patients to control their own medical information.

The benefits of a practice website include the ability to negotiate start-up costs with minimal maintenance fees, they’re updateable, they allow for multiple forms of communication, they can be interactive, they can link to, and be linked to from, other sites, they’re free to consumers, and they are available anywhere at any time.

But what do consumers want from a health care website? According to Chumley, they’re looking for disease-specific information; sites that are interactive, with quick responses to questions or requests and real-time information; individual, specific databases; sites that have partnered and link with top-quality content sites; and those that create tools that augment self care.

Questions a gastroenterologist should ask of their own site include:

  • Does it provide a value-added benefit to your patients? To your referral sources?
  • Does it communicate your group’s competitive advantage relative to your competition?
  • Why would a patient pay more out of pocket by looking at your website?
  • How does your website insulate your patient and referring physicians from the competition?

You also need to understand how patients and referring physicians evaluate your practice, says Chumley. “It’s important to demonstrate a visible value to your practice and integrate your communication with the market,” he adds.

Times have changed for practice websites, explains the speaker. Such sites used to content with being static, including the practice name, location, hours of operation, fax and telephone number, procedure instructions, office policies, physician photos and bios, and mission statement. Now, sites can be dynamic, including disease-specific education, links to top-notch sites, interactive options, patient portals, referring physician portals, prices, virtual tours, real-time communication, demonstrations of value, and demonstrations of quality.

Keys to a successful site, according to Chumley, start with a patient forum, a patient portal, the ability for patients to make appointments, online referral and referring forms, and side-by-side performance measures. But having these tools is worthless if nobody knows about the site.

To create a great site and get the word out, Chumley, says a practice will need to hire a Web designer, demand physician participation and oversight, assign a dedicated site manager, make sure the site is interactive and updated in real time, insist that the home page is aesthetically appealing, make sure the site is easy to navigate and links to other sites, track the site, include a call to action, test the site online before going “live,” prepare as much as possible, assure the site meets customer needs and is a source of ongoing communication, and finally, market the site to your customers.