Although US doctors recognize that many (perhaps most) new patients are searching online for healthcare information and providers, it seems that few doctors believe their website motivates patients to call their office.

The majority of medical practices in America have a website, but data from The Little Blue Book’s National Physicians Survey 2012: The Health of the Practice suggests that their website fails to bring in new patients. The iconic Little Blue Book (LBB) is just as ubiquitous as physician websites, and is now owned by interactive health and wellness social platform Sharecare.

When the LBB survey asked: How do you advertise for new patients?, respondents said they rely mostly upon word of mouth and professional referrals. Here’s the breakout:

  • Word of Mouth: 71 percent
  • Practice Network referrals: 33 percent
  • Print directories: 29 percent
  • Internet searches: 22 percent
  • Print ads: 2 percent
  • Online sites: 8 percent
  • Don’t advertise: 27 percent
  • Not taking new patients: 5 percent
  • Other: 5 percent

The national physicians survey found that 22 percent believe internet searches bring in new patients, but only 8 percent feel their website is the source. Orthopedic Surgeon Howard Luks, MD, posted his ideas and comments about these results, calling for physicians to “establish a deep digital presence.”

Dr. Luks wrote on his blog: “Ninety-five percent of online health related discussions take place without a physician being present. When ready and capable, root that presence deeply in social media. These enable the basic tenets of outbound marketing efforts. Take advantage of what a deep digital presence offers: humanize your organization, foster your relevance, educate, engage and help patients clear that windshield of doubt.”

He suggests even deeper ways to engage patients. “Embed enabling technologies [allow] patients to schedule visits at a time of their choosing, enable them to manage their PHI online, communicate with your staff digitally and provide them with a secure, intelligent email system which will streamline the communication workflow within your practice.”

We like Dr. Luks recommendations as a starting point for making physician websites earn their keep and bring more new patients into the office. Having a website that is little more than a directory listing is, at best, an inefficient use of marketing resources. Healthcare websites that connect, engage and produce new patient appointments will also support patient and professional referrals.

An infographic summary, and the full report, The Little Blue Book’s National Physicians Survey 2012: The Health of the Practice, is available here. And for related reading about how to avoid the most serious pitfalls in planning and producing a revenue-generating website, see: 7 Mistakes Doctors and Healthcare Organizations Make When Getting Their Website Done.