Hire a Web head!

According to the Nielsen Company, three out of every five people in the US have access to the Internet. More consumers than ever look to the Web for information about goods and services, especially dentistry.

Paul Feuerstein, DMD

A ccording to the Nielsen Company, three out of every five people in the United States have access to the Internet. More consumers than ever look to the Web for information about goods and services, especially dentistry.

A significant segment of the population will search for a dentist in the Yellow Pages. Dentists who want to capture this audience should put their Web addresses in their Yellow Page ads. When a prospective patient searches the Web, the position and attractiveness of the site has relevance. Many patients are drawn to the practice that appears more high tech; Web sites are a marquee way to publicize this about your practice.

Although we have discussed building your own Web site, here is where the professionals shine. Their experience shows what does and doesn't work. Web research reveals that a person makes the decision to stay on a site in the first eight seconds. If your goal is to gain patients through this medium, your home page must conform to this standard. You may want to hire an experienced helper.

At the Chicago Midwinter meeting, I had the chance to speak with representatives from three such companies. These are by no means the only ones - just a random sampling from the meeting floor.

J.K. Reinhart, of dentistryonline.com, believes patients will still look for new offices by traditional means, including direct referrals. Once they are considering an office, directing them to the Web site can capture their attention. Give the Web address during the initial phone contact, or mail the site address as a follow-up. If the new patient has e-mail, use this opportunity to send the office site via a link. Reinhart also suggests sending e-mail to the patient's place of employment, if allowable.

Reinhart states that the sites his company develops have content similar to CAESY, which is their partner company. Information can be directed to patients or, again, e-mailed as a link or as an online newsletter.

Richard Lee, dentalxchange.com founder, has been creating Web sites for both dentists and dental companies for several years. Offices can choose from several page templates to easily build a site. dentalchange.com is now promoting a link to its online practice-management software, Practice Connect. This new concept (Application Service Provider) is being explored by many of the current practice-management companies; similar symbiotic relationships will probably evolve.

Einsteindental.com has been a huge force in the dentist-locator service industry. Sales manager Christian Desrosiers explains that his company targets the savvy consumer who may be searching for a dentist online. These potential customers will often see banners of the "Dental Doc Shop" appearing at the top of the search page. Desrosiers points out that when a consumer types in a search word such as "implant," it triggers a corresponding banner. Even a small response to the ad could generate some high-dollar cases. Their expertise and affiliations with search engines can help narrow a search to one of their member offices.

PracticeWorks, Inc. has just introduced "Site Builder," which allows users to build their own high-quality Web site. PracticeWorks, Inc. also offers Interactive Site Builder, which integrates directly with its practice-management systems (SoftDent, PracticeWorks, etc). Patients can logon to check on their appointments, pay their bills, or e-mail the office.

It's advisable to get references from any company supplying these services. Speak with several users or go to their sites, examine them, and do your own searches to verify the company's claims. Also, beware of discussions of "hits;" this is a confusing set of statistics that can be manipulated to suit any purpose.

On a personal note, the Web recently affected my office. My office manager, Valerie, received an e-mail from her high school sweetheart, who found her through classmates.com after no contact for 20 years. He successfully wooed her back to the Detroit area from my northeastern Massachusetts office. I guess his Web site was better than mine. Good luck Val, and use me as a reference.

Dr. Paul Feuerstein installed one of dentistry's first computers when he placed a system in his office in 1978, and he has been fascinated by the technology ever since. For more than 20 years, he has taught courses on technology throughout the country. He is a mainstay at technology sessions in New England, including annual appearances at the Yankee Dental Congress, and has been a part of the ADA's Technology Day since its inception. A general practitioner in North Billerica, Mass., since 1973, Dr. Feuerstein maintains a Web site (www.computersindentistry.com) and can be reached by e-mail at drpaul@computersindentistry.com.

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