About half of all small businesses do not have a website. This goes for small medical practices as much as for other types of businesses — but the situation is different for health care professionals.
Most small medical practices don’t have websites. Their reasons are about the same as the reasons given by mechanics who don’t have websites — they have plenty of business already, they don’t have time to figure out how to get a website, they don’t see any need for a website — but their circumstances are different.
Can you choose to have no online presence?
A mechanic can decide not to have a website, and just have no online presence at all. People searching for a local mechanic won’t find him, and if that’s okay with him, he’s fine.
That’s not true for doctors and dentists. If you don’t have a website, people searching for information about you will still find you. Medical professionals have an online presence, whether they like it or not, in the form of medical review sites. A study from Loyola Medicine found that most star ratings — the 1 through 5 stars that show up in Google search results before patients choose to click through to a website — are based on just one or two reviews. Most negative reviews of doctors are based on things other than medical care or qualifications: the mood of the receptionist, negative interactions with insurance companies, or even displeasure with a diagnosis.
What’s more, over 80% of Americans go to the internet first to look for information about health and healthcare. As the American College of Physicians says,
Establishing a professional profile so that it “appears” first during a search, instead of a physician ranking site, can provide some measure of control that the information read by patients prior to the initial encounter or thereafter is accurate.
You can’t choose not to have an online presence. You can only choose whether to take control over your online presence.
Can you make do with social media?
Many healthcare professionals go with a Facebook page or an Instagram account instead of springing for a website. It looks like a good idea. It’s free, if you don’t count the time you spend working on it. You can post cool pictures of your staff and your office. Your patients feel like friends. And word of mouth is one of the main ways people find a health care provider.
Again, from the American College of Physicians:
Physicians should keep their professional and personal personas separate. Physicians should not “friend” or contact patients through personal social media.
Yet, if Facebook is the only way for a patient to get in contact with a doctor online, that patient will use Facebook. Unless you specialize in geriatric care, most of your patients do not use a phone book. They go directly to Google.
Even if you have your patient communication issues under control, there is one big reason that you should not rely entirely on social media for your online presence: it doesn’t belong to you.
Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google + can all change their policies and procedures at any moment, and all the work you’ve put into your social media presence can be gone. Recent examples include LinkedIn’s removal of product and services pages and Facebook’s decision to make businesses “pay to play.”
You don’t control free services, and it doesn’t make sense to build your business model on them.
You can provide meaningful patient education opportunities at your website, and you can make it easy for your patients to book appointments, request medication refills, and download forms to fill out.
Or you can choose not to.
Does your practice need a website? Yes.