By providing a customized practice Web site, women dentists can gain professional prominence in this age of education and technology. Both new and existing patients can discover an array of information about you and your office in the comfort of their homes and offices. In addition to other branding tools such as health fair brochures, Yellow Pages and newspaper ads, signage, and radio spots, a Web site strengthens and complements your presence and image in the dental market.
For many people, selecting a dentist is a monumental decision. Often, new patients come through personal referrals, which pave the way for a doctor/patient relationship based on trust and respect. Yet not everyone has the advantage of knowing someone who can recommend a good practitioner. A Web site — particularly one that has a home page featuring the dentist with her picture and a personal message that conveys care for and warmth toward her patients — is priceless. Indeed, a smiling photograph and a few words of encouragement on a computer screen might be all it takes for that prospect to pick up the phone, or better yet, email a request for an appointment.
An Internet presence can boost your marketing efforts too, which, in today's fiercely competitive environment, is a must. An inviting Web site — one that is attractive, interactive, and regularly updated — can do much for you and your practice:
- Stretch marketing dollars with 24-hour access
- Increase referrals
- Provide a continuous, two-way channel to communicate with patients
- Increase office efficiency
Just as each female practitioner has a unique personality, your Web site complements your specific brand. Promote your practice by including hours of operation, biographical/educational information, staff photographs, patient testimonials, and your professional philosophy about good dental care.
Whether your brand focuses on customer care or the latest trends in orthodontia — or both — a Web site enables you to highlight what you do best. Cynthia Haugh, DDS, of Willow Walk Family Dentistry (www.willowwalkfamily dentistry.com), Gainesville, Fla., turned to Officite (www.Officite.com) to develop a Web site that would be compatible with the service-oriented philosophy that has made her practice so successful.
"Our site is right in line with who we are," Dr. Haugh says. "It's classy, informative, and interactive. Plus, it cost less than I expected."
While the majority of Willow Walk's new patients come from word-of-mouth referrals, Dr. Haugh attributes her increased customer base to the Web site. "We bring in about 40 to 50 new patients per month and three to five of those come directly through our site. The Web site has already paid for itself many times over," she says.
Willow Walk's Web site also enhances the office's outreach efforts. "We serve a lot of people who live in farming communities as well — small towns that may not be able to support a dental office like ours," says Dr. Haugh. Indeed, Willow Walk attracts patients from towns like Trenton and Chiefland, about 35 miles east of Gainesville. "We even have a few patients from the north who travel two hours for their appointments."
A welcome message from the doctors at the Atlantic Orthodontic Center in York, Maine, (www.atlanticorthodonticcenter.com) closes with this poignant and memorable line: "We never lose sight of the fact that you are the reason we are here." Honest and to the point, the text says in simple, yet effective language that the patient comes first.
Dr. Tanya Glidden of the Atlantic Orthodontic Center also likes the ease with which new patients can fill out online forms. "Patients can fill out the forms before coming to the office, which really streamlines our procedures," she says. "The forms help us to run a more efficient office. Plus, we end up having insurance information before the patient even walks through the door."
Providing the forms online also helps patients make decisions more quickly. "It used to take three separate appointments to get people started on a particular treatment," says Dr. Glidden. "With online forms, our patients can decide on and commit to their treatment plans without wasting time going back and forth between appointments. It has really increased our treatment acceptance rate."
In addition to offering forms online, a Web site can answer questions that are not always easy to ask, especially if you're a teenager with your mother standing nearby. "Our 'Tooth Fairy Quiz' is an excellent source of information for kids of all ages," says Dr. Glidden. "It's fun to take and informative too."
The quiz covers typical questions about braces and cavities, as well as more sensitive subjects like tongue piercing and bad breath. "Kids can take the test in the privacy of their own homes and get the answers the same way," says Dr. Glidden. "This way, they can receive the information without feeling intimidated or embarrassed. Also, the quiz is a great springboard for family discussions."
You can also create an online newsletter for your Web site. Not only is it environmentally friendly, but it can be sourced 24 hours a day and forwarded and resourced again and again. Plus, with each new subscription you build a database that can be used for future announcements: new procedures, staff additions, awards, and other useful updates. An online newsletter can also be used to feature your expertise and knowledge of the industry.
Partner with an experienced Web design firm
Before you add a Web site to your marketing mix, take some advice from the pros. Here are some recommendations from dentists with sites and Web design firms:
- Budget. Look for a Web design partner who will accommodate your budget, including ongoing changes/edits at no charge, unlimited images and forms, reasonable setup costs, and hosting/site maintenance as part of a monthly fee.
- Company History. Consider the company's history. How long has it been in business? Does the firm readily provide references?
And what do those references say about the work?
- Accessibility. Find out about accessibility and response time. Are the firm's employees available on an as-needed basis? Do they answer the phone, or do you always get voice mail?
- Contract. Only sign a contract if there is an "out" clause, which enables you to walk away if you are unhappy with the results without paying a penalty.
- Efficiencies. Insist on incorporating online maps and directions and enough email addresses and online patient forms to suit your office's needs, without incurring additional costs.
- Search Engine Experts. Web sites must be designed for search optimization so prospects can find your site in search engines like Google, Yahoo, MSN, and AOL. Make sure the firm's employees are knowledgeable technologists who understand search engines and keep up with technological changes (so you don't have to).
- Dental Focus. Try to work with a company that specializes in dental sites and provides an ample amount of prewritten dental-specific content to ensure you are a strong online resource for your prospects and patients. This will also help your site rank high in the search engines.
- User-friendly. Insist that your site be user-friendly and easy to navigate. If prospects and patients cannot find what they're looking for quickly, they will go elsewhere.
Ms. Levine is a writer and the president of Life Integration Concepts, which provides skill development workshops to enhance company productivity and job satisfaction. You may contact Ms. Levine at [email protected].