Web Site Best Practices for Health Care Professionals — The Top 10 Essentials and Beyond

Photo adapted from “Doctors Office” by Walt Stoneburner (Flickr, Creative Commons).

Doctors, dentists, mental health professionals, counselors, and other health care providers have some of the widest-ranging sites imaginable in terms of various elements usually present on the web site. Most likely, this reflects the practitioner’s affiliation, or lack thereof, with a larger health care organization. Those affiliated with large hospitals may have no web site to speak of, save a possible brief mention somewhere within a huge hospital site or directory.

For smaller, independent practitioners, it still varies depending on many particulars. Also, most medical doctors and dentists are in a different world financially (and, in turn, marketing-budget-wise) than, say, counselors or naturopaths. So, while “health care” is the broad umbrella, it’s challenging to generalize about best practices. Still, I think we can speak mostly high-level here, and then discuss some aspects of a web site that most average size medical practices would find valuable.

10 Most Important Basic Web Site Elements for Health Care Providers

  • Well developed, on-point content — current and prospective patients deserve 100% clear, easy-to-read, and accurate descriptions
  • Proper disclosures and compliance (HIPAA, etc.) — get ’em in there, and know what they say!
  • About us / practice history — to offer a level of assurance to people that you’re professional, experienced, and trustworthy
  • Contact information / directions / and an inquiry form — and, if you’re savvy, an online intake form / system
  • Privacy policy and terms of service — more generic than HIPPA-stuff, but still important, esp. for larger practices with arguably more exposure financially
  • Service specifications — the more content, the better, and not just for SEO, but for good old-fashioned informational use. Put a page up about every type of situation you serve; it’ll be appreciated.
  • SEO Optimizations (meta tags, etc.) — yep, even doctors need to compete these days. Some seem to really take off wth this item. Having an optimized site, and linking up with decent off-site healthcare resources is a great start.
  • Practitioner and staff bios — again, super-important, as it speaks to the trust and assurance angle that so many are looking for. Also, it humanizes the practice and sets patients at ease — super important for medical practices, where consumers may harbor fear about coming in
  • Data capture / list building / autoresponders, newsletters, etc. — all pure, time-honored Internet marketing best practices. Other industries use these; there’s no reason your practice can’t use them too.
  • Security considerations — if it’s financial or health information (or both!), it needs to be secure. So, for example, if you’re a health care practice taking payments online … wow, you better focus on this!

How to Best Work With Web Developers

Marketing is a learning-centric profession; in order to market something effectively, you have to learn a lot about it in order to express the benefits that product or service offers to the target market. So, it’s not uncommon for a marketing professional to become quite knowledgeable about the day-to-day life of, say, a medical office professional.

Years ago (in the early 2000's), the company I was a marketing director for had a consulting division that, from time to time, kept me busier than the whole rest of the business. That division specialized in a few industry niches, one being MediSoft medical practice management software. Between that and my previous career exposure to health care legal publications, I learned quite a bit about the important topics of the day strictly through the kind of osmosis that exists when you’re marketing these things.

For health care providers, the working relationship with a web developer is the same. What works best is for you to provide as much detail as possible about your business objectives. (And, yes, we often work under NDAs. So, if you’ve cured cancer, but you’re not yet ready to tell the world about it, you can work with us on such things.)

Getting Beyond the Basics: Integrating!

As Content Management Systems (CMSs) mature and evolve, there is a growing gray area between a web site’s marketing function (that is, it’s outward-facing role) and its potential administrative function (above and beyond managing the content of a site, that is).

For health care practices, there’s great potential for streamlining back-office work by integrating a web site with the practice management functionality — at least in theory, anyway. For some, it could mean simply providing an electronic means for filling out forms formerly done on paper. For others, it could mean a much more robust integration with the practice management software. (It becomes much more of a possibility if that practice management software is cloud-based, as many such systems would have APIs via which web sites can more easily integrate with them.)

In other words, don’t think of your web site as merely a marketing tool. Marketing is one aspect of it (likely the most important one), but there is the larger platform of web-based technology to be leveraged here while you’re at it. Patient forms, appointment setting, CRM, and online payment via credit cards are all great example of this — even if your site isn’t fully integrated with a larger practice management or electronic health records suite.

On a separate note… I’m also seeing, across many industries, a lot of rating-type sites emerging. Think of Yelp! for the health care practitioner. Increasingly, online reputation is becoming an issue for many industry niches. So, taking charge of this as much as possible is probably worth considering. It could be as simple as allowing testimonials to be submitted on your web site — all the way to integrating with outside services or APIs that do this.

Finally, I’ll close with noting that certified medical professionals have a super advantage over a lot of other general health sites. If you’re an M.D. or a D.D.S. or a Ph.D., you have the standard certification that allows you to make some types of public claims on your site that might run some others into trouble. Naturally, many in this group are going to be rather conservative in nature, and that’s understandable. But, from a pure marketing angle, you really do have a leg up on a lot of others in terms of authority.

So, you CAN market … but are you doing it?

Jim Dee heads up Array Web Development, LLC in Portland, OR. He’s the editor of “Web Designer | Web Developer” magazine and a contributor to many online publications. You can reach him at: Jim [at] ArrayWebDevelopment.com.