Protecting Your Practice’s Online Identity: 4 Things ASC Physicians Should Know

Eddie EdwardsPhysicians and surgeons are acutely aware of the effect public image has on their reputations, but online presence is a relatively new concept. In the past 10 years, physicians have leapt at the growing trend of online marketing, but in the rush to get there many did not stop to learn all of the necessary information. "This lack of knowledge can have a negative impact on a physician's online presence," says Eddie Edwards, director of marketing for Medarva Healthcare, including Stony Point Surgery Center in Richmond, Va.


He has nearly 20 years of experience in creating online identities for physicians and surgeons. He explains four things physicians need to know when they set out to forge and maintain an online presence.

1. Choose an experienced company or person to build your website. Many physician and surgeon websites have been built by a single person that has no established level of experience. When you are ready to build your website, choose a company that has already built a number of medical websites. "Look at other websites a company has built. Have they updated their code and content?" says Mr. Edwards.

An experienced web developer will be able to explain how to keep a site from being lost in the shuffle. Once a website has been built, it begins to build an index within search engines. Do not abandon an old website to build an entirely new one because you or your practice’s place in search engine indexing could become completely lost and so could the ability for patients and referrals to find you. An experienced person will know how to redirect information so your indexing on major search engines like Google doesn’t get lost. "Everyone is building websites now, but it is messy. You want someone that understands the technology, not just a web publisher or designer says Mr. Edwards.

2. Ensure that you have ownership of your website and content. "When a company approaches you to build your website, ask whether or not you need to purchase your domain name or URL. Be informed from the very beginning," says Mr. Edwards. If you already have a website, ask the developer if you currently own the domain name. "When you create a website online, the domain name is purchased from a host provider such as Godaddy or Bluehost, and then becomes a URL so people can visit the site. URL stands for Uniform Resource Locator, and is used to specify addresses on the World Wide Web. A URL is the fundamental network identification for any resource connected to the web, such as hypertext pages or images," explains Mr. Edwards.
Physicians must also be sure that the content on their website belongs to them. Ensuring ownership of both the URL name and content will give the physician total control over how their website and name is being used. Ask the company building the website to provide papers proving site and content ownership.

Once ownership of a website is lost, regaining it can be an expensive venture. The initial cost of buying a website name can be as low at $20, but the process of transferring a name back to the physician can be anywhere from $100 to $10,000.

Regaining a URL may be pricey, but physicians often have no choice. Without ownership, physicians have no control over how that website and its information are used. They have lost the ability to present their own name and in some cases even their online privacy. "If you link your email address to your website and then lose control of the website, you have lost email privacy," says Mr. Edwards.

3. Link the website to your contact information. It is vital to link a website’s ownership to the physician's practice name, credit card and personal password. This allows physicians to establish and maintain control over their websites. With physician contact information tied to the website, a physician will be informed if their website domain is approaching expiration. Log-in and password information should be placed in the hands of the physician and will allow for total control over what is placed on the website. Physicians with existing websites should check if they are the contacts associated with their websites.

4. Keep websites updated with quality content. Though referrals have traditionally been a driving force behind patient volume, independent patient research is a growing trend. "Patients are researching online for physicians," says Mr. Edwards. To keep up with this trend, it is vital for physicians to have up-to-date websites.

Create the ability for physicians and administrators to add content to websites. "It keeps your website alive and relevant. If you don't keep your website updated from both the content side and the technical side, it won't function properly and get indexed less frequently, it could fade in searchability and no one will be able to find you online," says Mr. Edwards.

Physicians should add a current photo; patients like to see who will be providing their care beforehand. Add a personal touch to the website, such as a blog with recent accomplishments or news.

It has been typically thought that higher website traffic will automatically drive patient volume. "People are trying to get websites ranked higher in search results even without quality content, but content is king," says Mr. Edwards. It is important to keep search engine optimization in mind, but physicians should always prioritize quality content. "Ultimately, your online presence is your personality and why you are unique."  

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