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When it comes to making a good first impression on patients, one area that should not be overlooked is your practice's Web site.
The DIY approach can be handled in a couple of different ways: have a site created inexpensively using template programs in which the practice's name, address, phone numbers, and maps to the practice appear on the site ("brochureware"); or have a staff member or high school student with Web experience create the site. In either case, the DIY approach offers the advantage of full control over the design and content of the Web site, and this control allows you to fully customize the site. You can also control the site's hosting service (a service that allows individuals and organizations to make their sites accessible on the Web) and find a site that meets your budget and provides you with the necessary bandwidth.
If you do not need to be face to face with your vendors, the DIY approach may be perfect for your needs. DIY offers you complete control, and you can make alterations and changes to the site at any time.
The downside of DIY
One of the disadvantages of DIY is that for first timers, the time commitment can be extensive. You also need to understand that in-house or non-professional Web site developers will probably not create a site that has the same quality as one created by a professional and, therefore, you cannot expect the same results.
Another disadvantage is that the maintenance and upkeep of the Web site are the responsibility of the DIY developer. Finally, a DIY Web site does not afford you the opportunity to evaluate the metrics of the site, ie, how many visitors you have, how long visitors stay on the site, how many connect to the site via links from other sites, etc.
The professional route: A better alternative?
We recommend using professional developers who have experience in medical Web site development. If you select a professional with medical site development, you will get Web design, programming, and project management expertise.
There are many applications for writing programs for Web sites. The most commonly used is HTML. However, if you have hired a professional developer, you can have access to other software language such as JAVA, Python, and Miranda.
Professional Web site developers can provide you with useful metrics and analytics such as page visitors, site visitors, and click-through visitors who end up as patients in the practice. In addition, professional developers provide you with a team that can support your site. They will have access to creative people from multiple disciplines that can make your site exciting, attractive, and helpful to patients.
With every plus, there are minuses that must be considered. By outsourcing the development of your site, you may not have full control over your content and data should the developer go out of business. However, your contract with the developer can be negotiated to ensure that if this happens, you are entitled to keep your data and content.
Bottom line: The Internet has become an integral component of the health care delivery system. Every day, more patients are turning to the Internet for health information, medical advice, and the ability to connect with their physicians. We recommend that all practices consider the pros and cons of each method of Web site development before putting their practice on the Web.
Dr. Baum is a urologist in private practice in New Orleans. He is the author of Marketing Your Clinical Practice-Ethically, Effectively, and Economically.
Dr. Dowling is medical director of Urology Associates of North Texas, a 48-physician, community-based, single-specialty group in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.