Millions of people today are using the Internet to find love, to buy things, and to stay in touch with one another. To a growing extent, these same individuals are also using the Internet to help them make important decisions, including who to choose as a health care provider.
This trend can have serious implications for you and your practice. First of all, if you do not have a strong web presence you might be missing out on potential patients. Second, if you are not aware of the information about you that is available online then you could be losing clients and having your reputation damaged without even knowing it.
Patients who search online for physicians aren't trying to uncover the skeletons in your closet. Most are looking for the information they need to make smart choice about their healthcare. Knowing what the web has on you is an important step to controlling your reputation with patients and colleagues.
What Information Are Patients Looking For Online?
Patients want first to find physicians who are qualified in providing the kind of care they need. Even though patients with health care coverage can usually consult their insurance provider for a list of specialists, these lists are sometimes very limited. Patients who want more options, who want a physician who accepts Medicaid or Medicare, and who are self-payers use the Internet as an alternative method of finding potential physicians.
Most patients also want to know about your background before they enter your office and see your medical degrees displayed on the wall. Where you attended medical school, what specialties you are certified in, and how long you have been practicing are things patients need to know to feel confident about their decision to pick you as their health care provider.
Additionally, patients may want to check your background for black marks. They want to know if you have ever been disciplined by a state medical board, for example.
For the moment, we'll put aside the issue of the Google medical records project and focus on information about you, the physician.
How Do Patients Use Search Engines to Find Physician Information?
The most common way for patients to find out information about you is by using a search engine like Google.com. Current patients may enter your name or your name plus your city (i. e. “Dr. John Doe” + Phoenix). Potential patients will probably be likely to use more vague search terms, such as “Phoenix physician” or podiatrist + Phoenix.
From these searches, patients will get a list of sites. If you have a website, yours should be among the top returns. However, your listing with professional organizations, consumer sites, and more may also come up. Blogs and message postings referring to you might also appear in these search results.
Every few months, you owe it to your reputation to do a search for your name in order to see what comes up. You might be surprised to see what others are saying about you online. Remember that what you see is also what your patients are going to find when they do their own search.
Where Can Patients Go to Find Information Online?
You may already be among the growing number of physicians who are using the Internet as a marketing tool so you can reach new and existing patients. However, even if you already have a website for your practice that doesn't mean it will be the only source of information available to patients.
Does that mean you shouldn't have a website? Of course not. Your website may be one of the first sources of information a patient consults. Initially, your site may only contain basic information, such as your contact information, office hours, and directions to your location. As your practice grows and/or you become more comfortable with developing a web presence, you might use your site to share medical information or to communicate via email with your patients.