Electronic Marketing

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By Morgan Stanfield

Marketing in the digital age is a whole new ballgame, according to Elizabeth Mansfield, Outsource Marketing Solutions, though it's not necessarily one that everyone wants to play. In the past, practices generally relied on word-of-mouth referrals, yellow page ads, and mailings to lists of likely contacts. Now, Mansfield says, you need, "a piece of Internet real estate.... You can find almost anyone on the web if you type them [into the search engine], but people like to see a site that belongs to you, and then you can use that in so many different ways to amplify your word of mouth." Those ways vary from purchasing advertising from web browsers to "Web 2.0" functions--Internet features that allow patients to interact with websites, even adding to them, and allow practitioners to address existing and potential patients and referral sources in novel ways.

Dennis Clark, CPO, President, Pointe Health Centers of America, Waterloo, Iowa, and President, Clark & Associates Prosthetics & Orthotics, Waterloo, says that Clark & Associates recently added new interactive features to its site, including condition-specific patient-health information, links to support groups, practitioner bios, and space for patients to add testimonials. "I run into practitioners and business owners at conferences all over the country, and they say, 'Well, my patients aren't Internet savvy,'" he says. "First off, they're selling their patients short, but they're also selling short the influence of those patients' neighbors, church members, sons and daughters, siblings. A huge percentage of patients and patients' families and caregivers who look for information... are doing research on the Internet to help them make quality decisions. And so the number of hits on a monthly basis on our website because of the upgrades that we've done and the resource base that we've put on there are absolutely remarkable, and the amount of business that we're getting locally and regionally because of the information that people get from our website and the follow ups that we do when they ask us questions, is remarkable."

Practices can also purchase advertising on websites that potential patients might visit, such as Disaboom, a social networking site for people with disabilities. Such ads can be tailored to appear only to people in a target geographic location. Web browsers, such as Google, also offer advertising. These type of ads appear only to people who seem to be searching for something related to the practitioner's ad.

Mansfield's current favorite tool is the e-mail newsletter, which she says maximize her clients' outreach without their having to invest in postage or printing. She calls them, "really, really effective for any company if you do it right... especially for small patient care offices." They're also trackable from some e-mail systems. Microsoft Outlook's read-receipt function tells the sender which addressees opened each e-mail. If the sender subscribes to a service such as Constant Contact, the user can also tell which links in the message were clicked and which led to requests for more information.