Greater operational efficiencies and the ability to offer compelling new services are not the only benefits a radiology enterprise can expect from use of the Internet. The World Wide Web is an excellent vehicle for capturing more market share.
“Having an online presence provides us with an extra and quite powerful means of telling our story to referring physicians and patients,” says Warren Keipper, RT, MBA, chief executive officer of Concept Medical Diagnostic Center in Lake Worth, Fla. “It allows us to put into their hands in a very convenient and easily accessible way information they need to have. Information that will help convince them to choose us over one of our competitors.”
For Carrie Becks, online presence accomplishes one thing more: it endows radiology enterprises with a higher degree of credibility in the eyes of referral sources and patients alike. That, she says, will translate into clinicians and consumers having less hesitancy in deciding to use that particular provider.
“As an imaging center adds the Internet to its traditional marketing program, it will immediately present itself to the world as a cutting-edge enterprise, the kind of place that referring physicians can feel solidly confident about sending patients to and that patients can feel very comfortable about going to,” says Becks, medical advisor to Fireball Imaging, an El Segundo, Calif, company that helps operators of full-body screening centers handle the marketing of those enterprises.
Becks suggests that, based on her experiences, an Internet presence-executed properly-can yield for any imaging provider a 15% to 20% increase in revenue over the span of a year.
A well-executed Internet presence requires a Web site designed to be both an information resource and a two-way communication channel, experts assert. The primary reason referring physicians and patients (and patients’ relatives, friends, and caregivers) will log onto an imaging center’s Web site is to learn about the services, technologies, personnel qualifications, and care philosophy that make this provider different from and better than the other radiology enterprises in the area.
“The great benefit of the Web is that it can create-through words, diagrams, maps, and photographs-a clear understanding of what the facility offers to patients,” Becks says. “A Web site can help patients find out everything they need to know about the center, the imaging equipment, preparation for tests, staff, directions to the site, hours of operation, managed care contracts and insurance coverage, who the radiologists are, and where they were trained.
“Frequently updated educational materials and links to other clinical Web sites can be posted so that site visitors can have the ability to drill down as deep as they want into information they are interested in obtaining. For example, with the advent of high-technology imaging and self-referred studies, patients are increasingly interested in learning as much as they can about things like MRI, coronary artery calcification, and whole-body CT. A properly designed Web site will have material on those procedures available and will offer visitors the ability to read, download, or print as little or as much of it as they choose.
“Best of all, this is information that can be accessed any time of day or night, 7 days a week, without the assistance of office staff.”
But, increasingly, referring physicians and patients log onto radiology Web sites with the expectation of being able to make requests.
“The Web site hosting service we use offers a capability that will allow referring physicians to log on and place their patients on our schedule,” says Keipper. “We haven’t yet made this available to the referring physicians in our market area, but when we do, it should work advantageously for all concerned. With the patient standing at his or her physician’s front desk, that doctor’s receptionist or other staff person would be able to access our online appointment book, look for openings, find one that the patient says is convenient, and then secure for that individual a date and time to undergo the procedure here at Concept Medical.”
Additionally, Concept Medical is planning to utilize another capability offered through its Web site hosting service: a mechanism that will enable patients to fill out registration and medical history forms online and in advance of their visit, Keipper says.
HALF THE BATTLE
Success in marketing via the Internet requires, at the most basic level, having an eye-arresting Web site, experts argue.
“You have between 5 and 10 seconds in which to capture the interest of the person viewing your Web site, no matter whether you’re talking about a referring physician or a patient; after that, if it’s not visually interesting or if it’s tedious, they’ll leave and go visit someone else’s site,” says Becks. “To keep our Web sites interesting, we use a lot of flash animation. Research has demonstrated that this helps draw viewers in and makes a terrific first impression.”
But visual appeal alone is not enough. An effective Web site also is one that is well organized and allows for easy navigation.
“Visitors must be able to find instantly what they are looking for,” Becks notes. “People want information fast. They don’t want to have to work their way through one page after another after another to get at what they want.”
(Many experts would add that keeping the Web site simple is another way to abet speedy access to information; some sites are so sophisticated and graphics-laden that it takes an intolerably long time for each page to load onto the screen. Only the most determined visitors-or those fortunate enough to have a high-speed Internet connection-are likely to stick around after being subjected to such torture.)
An effective Web site is one thing more: content rich.
“Content is what visitors go to your Web site expecting to find,” Keipper offers. “Good content is material that you produce yourself or that you obtain and post from outside sources that satisfies the information needs of visitors.”
Sources of content can include existing marketing materials (such as brochures, press releases, audio tapes, and video clips), news reports, and peer-reviewed journal articles, experts say.
Still, properly putting together a Web site is only half the battle. The remainder is the challenge of driving referring physicians and patients to that Web site.
“The best Web site in the world is of no value unless people know it exists,” says Keipper. “To drive people to your site, the first thing you have to do is include your Web address on every piece of stationery-put it on your letterhead, on your envelopes, business cards, invoices and claim forms, service contracts, the works. You then do the same with every piece of marketing material you produce-your brochures, advertisements, patient education handouts or instruction sheets, referral pads, even your voice-mail and call-handling systems.
“If you have a display booth at a health fair, print your Web address in large, easily readable type right under your company name and logo.”
Some Internet authorities suggest promoting a site’s existence by purchasing banner and pop-up ad space on other Web sites-namely, those that are well known to referring physicians and patients and are already extensively visited by them. A drawback to this strategy is that banners (advertisements that appear across the top, bottom, or sides of an Internet page) and pop-ups (advertisements that do precisely that by suddenly opening in the middle of the page) are expensive. As with any kind of paid advertising, the more people that are promised to be exposed to the ad, the higher the fee charged.
“The biggest thing we tried that flopped was banner advertisements,” Becks says. “Banner ads were a really major deal about 2 or 3 years ago, but we discovered that the number of visitors who click on the banner ads and then convert into customers because of the messages in those ads is very low.”
Another drawback to banner advertising is that the Internet is not purely a local medium. It is global. A banner advertisement for a single-geographic market imaging center appearing on a popular health care-oriented Web site-such as DrKoop.com-will be seen by millions across the planet but by only a relative few in the target market area. Thus, this form of promotion is wasteful in addition to ineffective, says Becks. (The exception might be banner ads appearing on Web sites catering only to the local market, such as those operated by a city’s Chamber of Commerce or tourism boosters or by private concerns providing a community entertainment-and-dining guide-although it would be a lot less expensive to simply arrange for those Web sites to carry a link to the radiology enterprise’s Web site.)
START YOUR SEARCH ENGINES
Naturally, cleverness counts when promoting a radiology enterprise via the Internet-and few gambits are as clever as that of using online chat rooms to get out the word. The idea here is to assign people on your staff to monitor various Internet chat rooms and news discussion groups. Those monitors can participate in the conversations and, when appropriate, make mention of the radiology enterprise that employs them, thereby opening a line of discussion about it. For example, a chat might be under way concerning breast cancer; a monitor would be able to interject information about mammography and, with skill, guide the conversation in a way that allows him or her to refer participants to either the radiology center or its Web site for useful information about mammography.
Another viable technique entails sending email messages to referring physicians and patients. These messages, says Becks, can be anything from service offers to invitations to attend an open house, and from advisories concerning new services and business partners all the way up to electronic newsletters, complete with images, sound files, and page links back to the sender’s Web site.
Perhaps the single best approach for driving referring physicians and patients to a Web site is to have the imaging center’s Internet address listed with as many search engine and search directory services as possible, Becks advises.
“What you submit is basic information about your Web site: name, address, and a list of key words that describe the nature and content of the site,” she says, adding that these key words-such as radiology and mammography-enable Internet users to surefootedly find their way to sites worthy of a visit. “The search engine operator then incorporates the submission into an algorithm that causes the name and address of your site to be included on a list of sites delivered to the Internet user at the end of a search whenever that user employs search terms that match the key words you have attributed to your site.
“However, users typically visit only the first few sites yielded by a search, since engines customarily list them in descending order of relevance to the search terms that were employed. Thus, it pays to choose key words very carefully so as to ensure that your site is always among the first returned by a search. For this, you need the help of someone who really knows the Internet and the key-word strategies that work best, as well as how and where to submit site-listing information.”
Becks cautions against taking short cuts in this and in any other aspect of Web site development.
“There is too much at stake,” she insists. “A properly produced and marketed Web site will generate hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue for an imaging center over the course of a year. The good news is that it has never been easier or less expensive to do precisely that.”
Rich Smith is a contributing writer for Decisions in Axis Imaging News.