It seems like everyone has a website—including mental health professionals. From movie schedules to treatment options, search engines serve up relevant information to millions of people each day. So, in the ever-evolving state of technology use in the medical field, it’s important to assess what you need from a website and how you want to get there.
Assess your objectives
The first thing to think about is what you want the site to do for you. Is it simply a space where patients and colleagues can learn about your professional practice (eg, practice location, professional interests, hospital and/or academic affiliations) or do you want to be able to interact with visitors on a wider level?
If your goal is to educate your patients about particular topics, you may devote a section to psychiatric disorders or common mental health concerns. Insert links to professional groups such as the American Psychiatric Association that provide information to the general public. Include articles you’ve written or links to other providers. This information is unidirectional: visitors to your site will be able to access information, but they won’t be able to (easily) send any information. This kind of site is relatively low maintenance because you can decide to update information as frequently, or infrequently, as you choose.
However, if you want to interact with your website visitors, take into account the amount of time you wish to devote to the site. After all, it might seem like a good idea to allow visitors to comment on your blog or request an appointment, but someone is going to need to monitor those comments and follow up on requests. Interactive sites can be a great way to build a referral base or improve your online profile, but it is very easy to underestimate the amount of time you’ll spend maintaining the site.
This leads to an important piece of advice: don’t let the content on your website get old. There is no quicker way to turn off visitors than to allow too much time to elapse between updates or new postings. Once you create a site, it is a commitment.
Legal and ethical implications
You’ll want to check with your malpractice insurer regarding their recommendations or policies about website. For example, you should never give, or allow the impression that you’re giving, medical advice. To do so is unethical and against the law. If you discuss treatments online, it may be important to add a disclaimer that your site should not be construed as offering advice and that any treatment decisions should be made under the direct guidance of a physician.
We strongly recommend hiring a website designer or consultant. These professionals will help you with initial setup decisions like hosting, design, and security. Perhaps most important, however, is that they will work with you to create content in a way that helps you reach your goals. For example, if you want to create a website that will increase referrals to your practice, topics such as analytics, web forms, and search engine optimization must be considered.
A website for your practice can increase your patient base and decrease advertising costs, but it does require planning and an initial investment. With that said, we encourage psychiatrists and others in the mental health field to consider what a Web presence can do for their practices and their patients. After all, when was the last time you went to a new doctor without checking them out online first?