October 1998 Bulletin

Practices hang 'shingles' on Internet web sites

Orthopaedists reaching computer literate patients

Since launching its web site in November 1997, the Fox Valley Orthopaedic Institute has received e-mail from around the world, much of it in response to articles written by its surgeons and posted on the site about topics ranging from skier's thumb to shoulder impingement syndrome.

The Geneva, Ill. institute's foray into cyberspace has certainly given it a global presence. But by linking the site to the local chamber of commerce, the practice has also found a way to accomplish a more immediate objective-an increased local presence.

More and more, orthopaedic practices are using web sites as one more way to reach out to their patients and the public. Mary O'Brien, practice administrator for the Fox Valley Orthopaedic Institute, said the surgeons decided to establish the site after it became apparent that many of the Institute's patients and potential patients were computer literate and using the Internet to gather information.

"A lot of the patients would come in, for example, for an ACL tear," O'Brien said. "They would say they looked it up on the Internet and saw such and such type of treatment. We knew they were using the Internet for research."

Donna Wood, administrative vice president of the University Orthopaedic Clinic in Tuscaloosa, Ala., agreed. "We felt that an increasing number of patients were obtaining health care information via the Internet and that it was an additional media outlet where we needed to have a presence," she said.

Web technology is "absolutely essential" in health care now, according to Arthur Sturm, president and chief executive officer of Sturm Rosenberg King & Co. in Chicago and author of the book New Rules in Health Care Marketing.

"The web is being used by consumers for health care information," said Sturm.

People are shopping around trying to find out what's available, what procedures are being performed and who has the expertise in those procedures. This is especially true in the specialty areas. If you're not on the net, in the long term you are going to be at a sincere disadvantage."

Sturm also said he expects an increasing demand from consumers who want interactive access to their physicians. "This will include everything from e-mails on Q & A to electronic scheduling and electronic prescription refills," he said.

Cary Cox, head of Cox Marketing Group of Charlotte, N.C., said web sites are the new fax machine. "Several years ago very few people had fax machines," Cox said. "Now most businesses wouldn't be caught without one. That's going to happen with web sites. The nice thing is that people can get the information they need when they want it. That's why it's growing."

Sturm said the cost of web technology is "all over the place right now," but he said there are a lot of boutique firms that are designing web sites relatively inexpensively. The sites for the Fox Valley Orthopaedic Institute and the University Orthopaedic Clinic were professionally designed with input from the physicians and staff.

Wood, of University Orthopaedic Clinic, said the web site costs less than many of the clinic's other regular marketing endeavors, which include newspaper and television advertising, direct mail and public speaking by the clinic's surgeons.

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