Doctors extend the waiting room to the Internet

By Alison Snyder
http://www.libn.com/

In our Internet-saturated society, where consumers routinely turn to Google for information on health conditions and the doctors who treat them, a Web site could have a bottom-line impact for physicians.

Kaveh Alizadeh, a plastic surgeon in a Garden City-based group practice, said having a Web site is a necessary tool for doctors and has a huge impact on business, with at least half of the 15,000 new patients coming to the practice via the Web site. “That’s how the majority of people will choose their doctors,� he said, attributing his practice’s steady increase in patients to its Web site, which has existed for six years.

Physicians such as plastic surgeons, dermatologists and others who do elective procedures were among the first to employ Web sites as a means as marketing, said John Pellman, chief executive of Elmont-based MedNet Technologies, a business that designs sites specifically for the health-care crowd.

But that’s been changing, Pellman said. Little by little, insurance-based practices such as pediatricians and family-practice physicians are also joining the ranks.

Though elective practices such as Alizadeh’s find a large portion of new patients coming in from the Web, for insurance-based practices, the site plays a different role with patients, Pellman said. In essence, a Web site is an extension of a doctor’s waiting room.

Patients primarily come to the physician through referrals, he said, and patients will frequently go to Google or another search engine and type in the name of a specific doctor or practice in an effort to validate the referral and ensure the doctor is familiar with the procedure or treatment for which he was recommended.

If the practice doesn’t have a Web site, then the patient may go elsewhere to find treatment, Pellman said.

The concept rings true for other professions – a site is a useful starting point to get information about an attorney, said Barbara Cerrone, director of marketing and public affairs for Ruskin Moscou Faltischek.

“If for nothing else, in our Internet-driven age, it’s important for people to find an attorney or a practice,� she said.

For accounting firms, visiting the Web site is usually the next step someone takes after a reference or seeing the firm’s name on lists, said Andrew Cohen, the partner in charge of the Long Island practice of Weiser. Though he said the site alone won’t help secure an account, it “gets you the foot in the door; they see you’re a quality firm with subject-matter expertise.�

A firm’s site is the next point of contact, said Adam Wolf, director of marketing and business development for accounting firm Grassi & Co. A Web site also plays a role in attracting young talent, agreed Wolf and Cerrone, who said their sites receive a lot of traffic from college graduates.

Usually, accountants and lawyers, along with doctors, outsource the work of creating, designing and hosting a Web site to companies like MedNet, but Marc Salzberg, a physician who owns a walk-in urgent care practice in Smithtown, designed his own as he was launching the practice. With a little bit of design and code knowledge and the help of a good friend to polish it, Salzberg said the site has had a positive impact on business.

For most doctors who don’t have that luxury, MedNet charges from $1,500 to $5,000 to design a site. For Alizadeh’s 12-surgeon practice, it’s been an ongoing investment – the group is in the process of redesigning the site, adding more information and even video.
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