Chapter 16: Www.doctor.com - setting up your virtual clinic on the internet
|"I used to think that cyberspace was fifty years away. What I thought was fifty years away, was only ten years away. And what I thought was ten years away... it was already here. I just wasnt aware of it yet."
- Bruce Sterling.
In the past, getting on the Net meant learning how to surf the Web, and having your own email address was considered to be a status symbol ! However, today, this is no longer enough – you need to have your own Website ! This rapid pace of change is symbolic of how quickly things are changing in today’s world – and doctors who are not proactive are likely to get left behind!
You are a busy doctor, so why should you take the time and trouble of setting up your own website ? Every good doctor knows that keeping your patients happy and providing excellent patient care is key to success. Your website lets you provide value-added services for your patients, by providing details as to the timings of the clinic ; the specialized services you offer; answers to commonly asked questions; and post-procedure instructions as well as directions as to how to get to the clinic. 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/contact center.
Your website allows you to answer routine patient’s queries by email. Patients are thirsty for information about their illness, and many will use the Net to find information. 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. Your website will also save you a lot of time ! Most doctors have now started seeing patients coming with Net printouts of pages and pages of unreliable and irrelevant information.
If you put up your own website, you can guide your patients to reliable sources of information – thus saving your patients the frustration of wading through 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.
Your website can help you to attract new patients . Indian medical care is very cost-effective, and a website is very valuable for informing NRIs of your medical expertise. Soon, it will become as routine for patients in India to do " research " about their doctors, as it is in USA, and your website can help patients to find you ! At our website at http://www.DrMalpani.com - we answer over 10 queries a day, as a result of which we
get direct patient referrals from all over the world ! Remember that internet positive 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 !
Your website is an excellent form of continuing medical education for yourself. Because you need to update your website all the time, not only do you need to source the latest medical information, you also need to keep upto date with web technology !
However, website benefits are not restricted to practise promotion only. We put up a new website at www.TheBestMedicalCare.com to publicise our book, How to Get the Best Medical Care – A Guide for the Intelligent Patient. We now get orders from all over the world – and get paid in US dollars too for this !
Our first website, www.healthlibrary.com is a purely educational site, and by putting up over 20 full-text books on ayurveda and yoga online in our reading room, we are helping to promote Indian healing systems internationally. Patients all over the world are very interested in alternative medicine , and websites can allow Indian doctors to treat patients from all over the globe.
Putting up a website has become very easy , and many companies provide free webhosting. However, it’s well worth spending about Rs 10000, to get your own domain name and a commercial webhost. This lets your patients know that you are professional and serious about the services you offer.
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. Online promotion usually means registering the site with all the relevant search engines, so people can "find” you. Offline promotion is even more important, and you need to tell everybody about it! Print the website address ( URL ) on your business cards and your stationery – and display it in your waiting room . Encourage patients to use 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 so it is fresh and new, many will happily visit it regularly – and even refer many of their friends to your site as well .
You can also design a monthy 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 web site, but does require commitment to keep the content fresh.
Are there are any downsides? The major one for doctors in the US is that of legal liabilities. Protecting patient privacy and confidentiality is a major concern, and while
this is still not an issue in India as yet, it is likely to become important as the world shrinks even further.
It is true that putting up a website – and updating it - can be time consuming , and you might want to consider outsourcing it. Your website is an image of your clinic – make sure you do a professional job! Typing errors, poor grammar and deadlinks all create a poor impression. Also, make sure 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.
This can also provide you with an incentive to upgrade your own services. Your website can help to keep you on your toes – both professionally, because you need to update your knowledge to provide fresh content for your website and to answer queries received by email from patients in all parts of the world; and technologically, because you will need to keep abreast of computer and internet technology.
The Indian government has started encouraging doctors and hospitals to export their services, and medical services can be a major area of foreign exchange revenue for the future . By encouraging doctors and clinics to put up their own websites, the Indian Health Ministry can help the Indian medical industry to export their specialized medical services and knowledge – without contributing to brain drain! This can be a valuable source of foreign exchange for the country, and our hospitals can be actively promoted as medical centers of excellence. Indian doctors have the expertise – we just need the infrastructure and the promotion !
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 don’t take 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 our patients to meet the challenge that lies before us all !