Much hay has been made about whether or not the new Healthcare Reform will be good for America, and physician’s practices, specifically. We’ll let the politicos sort that one out. In the meantime, the move toward convenience, transparency and prevention in healthcare is bringing the promise of the information age to modern medicine. Here’s our recommendations for how we think physicians, especially specialists, can take advantage of them.
1) Skype Consultations:
This is so simple to do, we’re amazed more physicians don’t offer it. It’s a very simple matter to create a special page on your website where you can schedule Skype consultations with patients. For instance, one of our clients, Dr. Schrepferman, came to us wanting to turn his practice into a national hub for vasectomy reversals, as he is a nationally recognized microsurgery expert. Convincing people to come in from out of town, however, was a hurdle. He knocked that down by setting aside a little time out of his week to talk to potential nervous new patients through Skype. It allows patients to test your expertise, see your manner, and get a sense for what you can do before they have to travel. This works great for specialists who do elective surgeries. But think how much of a timesaver it could be for potential patients who are shopping for a pediatrician? Or a gerontologist for their aging parent? Or an oncologist who can help their loved one with cancer get a cutting edge treatment?
There’s more than just the potential new patient who can benefit. Imagine if your patients knew they could talk to your screening nurse over the phone by Skype, to determine if they need to come in for an appointment or not. The nurse could actually see the patient, see if they look feverish, see if their environment is appropriate at home for their recovery, etc. Sometime soon, expect the government and insurance providers to provide a set a guideline for billing for these kind of consults, under controlled circumstances.
2) Reach out to your patients on Facebook and/or Twitter:
As a physician, you are in a unique position to curate information for your patients. Simply sign up for some good Facebook sources of information like Mayo Clinic, The Centers for Disease Control, The National Academy of Pediatrics, or the like. As posts come into your account that you think might be of interest to your patients, pass them on. Keep in mind, you do not have to use your personal account to “friend” your patients. That’s generally not a good idea. Have a fan page, like this one we created for Dr. Mark Chariker, that you create for your practice, which can message your patients with a couple informative messages a week. Make sure not to give specific medical advice to patients. Pick up the phone to contact them directly when their messages surface.
3) Google Alerts:
It never fails to shock me how many physicians aren’t using this tool. Google Alerts is entirely free to use, and gives you an email alert every time your name is mentioned on the Internet. In the age of physician reviews, failure to pay attention to this can be downright hazardous to your practice. Just go to the Google search bar and type in “google alerts.” Put in the name of the physicians in your practice. Put in the name of your practice. Designate an office manager or intake nurse to receive the alerts, which you will receive within minutes, usually, of something going up. Check these alerts out. All it takes is one disgruntled or confused patient to smear your name on the Internet for all eternity. When you do get a bad review, respond immediately to the patient. Usually you can make amends. If the reviewer turns out to be a shill or you can prove what they say is libelous or false, most review sites will agree to remove the post. The same rules generally apply to blogs and traditional media sites, too. No matter what you’re doing with the web, you must do this. Seriously. It takes five minutes. (She said, while vigorously wagging her finger.)
We know what you’re thinking…how in the heck am I going to have time to blog? Relax. You don’t have to be Ernest Hemingway. This can be a catchall spot for you to discuss new treatments that are available, new guidelines for patients and news from your practice like new services or that charity project your practice has supported. With your patient’s clearance, you can celebrate their successes in overcoming serious illness or their experiences using a new treatment. It’s a wonderful way to make your practice come alive to people who are looking at your website. And make no mistake about it, they are looking. In fact, more than 80 percent of patients reported recently to the Pew Internet Research Center that they search on the Internet FIRST for information about their health. Make your website a place where it makes sense for them to come.