by Brad woodford, DDS, MS
Making a Web site look cool is easy, but maximizing its potential as a marketing tool takes vision and planning
Orthodontists seem to be a pretty progressive group of individuals, interested in the latest technologies. Sometimes our interest is mainly in the gadgets. Sometimes, though, technology helps us to communicate and treat our patients more effectively. I must admit that I fall into both of these categories, as evidenced by the new exhaust system I installed on my truck. It was not really necessary, but it sure does sound cool—and, oh yes, it does improve my gas mileage just a bit.
A Web site can just be something that looks cool, or it can be an integral part of your office systems. Let me share some of the steps I went through in my decision to add a Web site to my practice, and show how I feel it can be utilized and what it will and will not do for you.
The first and most important questions you have to answer before creating a Web site are these: How do you want to use your site, and what do you want it to say about your practice? If you cannot answer these questions, I suggest that you postpone spending the money on a Web site.
After a previous career as the director of a Children and Adolescent Psychiatric Hospital, I had a little midlife crisis, which landed me back in dental school and, fortunately, orthodontics. Having had this previous experience working with youth and families, I knew exactly what I wanted my practice to look like. I was also very blessed to be able to take over an existing practice from my father, who has been an orthodontist for more than 40 years.
When I arrived, I created a new logo and a new vision/mission statement and began restructuring all the systems in the office to reflect this vision. I started with a new office-management system that I felt would better support the way I wanted to communicate with my patients and families, and would portray the image that I wanted to have in the community. From there, I added a new phone system to better communicate within the office and with our patients and referring doctors. New and exciting written materials were in order, and then came the Web site. I wanted to have something that looked fun, was easy to navigate, provided plenty of information, integrated with our management system, and let us connect more easily with our referring doctors.
Choosing a Web Site
Web sites can be as simple as a single page with little more information than name, address, and phone number; there are also very elaborate, interactive, Flash-based sites. This is where your vision comes into play. I started with my logo, which gave me the color and enthusiasm that I wanted to communicate.
Then I began researching the many different companies that developed Web sites. Prices varied from $1,000 to well over $10,000. I quit looking at price and started looking at those who would create something that appealed to me and provided me the information that I wanted to convey to my patients without my having to write everything from scratch. Iwanted something that I could simply add to or edit so I could have a finished product within a reasonable amount of time and for a reasonable cost. Many of the sites I researched seemed to be too similar, with just minor variations in color or logo.
I finally chose a company that was able to create something from scratch that was customized for what I wanted; that was fun, exciting and colorful; and also had a lot of orthodontic-specific information that I was able to edit however I wanted it to read.
What can a Web site do for you if you let it? Marketing your practice is of primary importance. I don’t necessarily mean increasing production—I mean providing information. How many times have you done an initial exam on a teenage patient, only to be the first one to tell the parents that their child had an impacted canine that had resorbed a lateral root? Then the parents would ask you the enjoyable question, “Well, we have been seeing Dr Blank for years. How come he didn’t tell us this?” Not a comfortable situation to find yourself in, but it points to the need for getting information into patients’ and parents’ hands. A Web site is a great way to explain through words, graphics, and even movie clips.
To help your internal marketing and communication, initial exam and medical-history forms can be placed on your Web site, which a patient can fill out prior to his or her initial appointment, saving appointment time. Office information such as your address, phone number, email contact, and maps to your office are usually standard on most sites. If your system allows it, or if you can purchase a separate program, you can enable your patients to log on to your Web site and check their appointment status, their account balance, or their next payment.
How many phone calls a day does your front-office staff receive asking when someone’s next appointment is? Think about how much time it can save if patients and parents know they can go to your Web site instead. It really begins to help justify the cost when you figure out how much you are paying a staff member to repeatedly provide information that anyone can find on your site.
How many times during an initial exam is only one parent present? You may explain a son or daughter’s Class II malocclusion and why he or she may need orthodontic treatment. Then the family returns home, and you can imagine the discussion around the dinner table that evening as they attempt to explain what you had discussed with them earlier that day. A picture is worth a thousand words, and a few brief descriptions with graphics on your Web site can give a much better idea of what is needed and why. I have found this to be a great help, so at every initial exam appointment, I direct parents to my site, www.woodfordortho.com.
Young patients also get a kick out of navigating the Web site; they are the ones who use it the most and show their parents how to use it. Links to games and other entertaining sites are fun and a good way to educate them.
In-office giveaways or contests are an effective way to introduce patients to your Web site and to keep them connected. One idea my staff came up with is to make up a series of questions whose answers can be found throughout the site. Patients email us their answers through the site, then we have a drawing for a GameBoy. This way, they learn how to navigate the Web site and find the information that we want them to have.
We also have a calendar of events on our Web site. We can post our work schedule, indicating which of our two offices we are working in; we can also highlight practice events, holidays, school events, or patient events we want to promote. This is also a great way to reach out to the community. I speak to elementary schools for National Orthodontic Health Month, and this goes on our calendar.
I am building a new office that will also include a pediatric dentist, and our facility is designed to be a little community center, with a game room where kids can hang out. We can use our Web site to let kids know about gaming tournaments or movie nights we will provide for patients and their friends. Again, all these ideas are initiated by our overall vision for the practice and how we want to be involved with our community. The Web site is simply a tool that we plug into the overall plan; it becomes our ongoing “newsletter,” if you will.
My new office is planned to be completely paperless, but this will take some work. Only 2 years ago, we used a computer system only for scheduling and contracts. Having said that, it would be nice to communicate with other professionals using computer technology. A Web site can have a referral page built into it. Referring doctors can simply fill out a quick form and send it right back to you, eliminating the postage and waiting time of referral cards.
You can also post unusual cases and utilize your Web site like a mini study club, allowing colleagues to view information and give you feedback. This can be a tremendous value to any orthodontist, especially if you are a single-doctor practice.
One recent example for me was a teenage patient who was in full braces when, one evening, she reported severe burning pain throughout her mouth. She was rushed to the ER and then transferred to a Phoenix burn center. I finally saw her three weeks after the onset. I took pictures and was hoping to remove her orthodontic appliances, but she was in so much pain that I was unable to. I was amazed at the severity of her lesions and the scarring that had taken place on her lips.
I used my email to send these pictures to numerous colleagues with a brief description, asking for any advice and suggestions regarding a diagnosis. I received many responses and finally a diagnosis from my colleagues at Ohio State that turned out to be the correct one—erythema multiforme.
As a result of this communication, I was able to secure special privileges at our local hospital to remove her appliances under general anesthesia, and Iam glad to say that she is on the mend. So here’s to the Web, a wonderful tool that we should not be afraid to utilize.
Web Site Won’ts
A Web site will not help you diagnose or finish cases better. It will not substitute for bad or inadequate staff. If you do not provide great service to your patients, families, and community, then the greatest Web site will not help—it could even make you look worse. I can also not seem to get my Web site to run my morning meetings or take accurate impressions, but if I could I would.
So don’t be afraid. Create your personal vision. Decide what you want to communicate to your patients, families, community, and referring doctors. A Web site can be one of your most valuable and least expensive employees.
Prior to practicing orthodontics, Brad Woodford, DDS, MS, was the director of the Children and Adolescent Psychiatric Program at Thunderbird Samaritan Hospital in Phoenix. He received his MS in marriage, family, and child counseling, as well as his DDS and MS in orthodontics, from Ohio State University. He can be reached at [email protected]