Technology plays a startling role in all of our lives. Today, you can be flying across the country at over 300 miles per hour while telephoning someone in a foreign country. A letter can be sent and received by fax in less than a minute. Not so long ago, it would have taken days to get to a remote destination and perhaps weeks to receive a letter through the mail.

Similarly, computers are now faster and more powerful than those used only 10 years ago to store large amounts of data or build aircraft. Twenty years ago, these same computers were large enough to fill a room. Taking a photograph no longer requires film, movies are on small discs that fit into computers, and information on virtually every subject is at everyone’s fingertips. Digital technology, and the Internet in particular, have expanded our horizons and fundamentally changed how people source information.

The Internet is also one of the fastest growing media for marketing a business and bringing in new customers. Many businesses, however, fail to see the benefits of the Internet and how it can be used to build local market presence. There is a prevalent belief that the Internet is only for companies that want to sell products or conduct business on a global scale.

Can the same World Wide Web that is used by multinational companies to gain access to the entire world be used to contact Mrs. Jones, who is looking for a solution to her husband’s hearing loss, in your hometown? Is it possible to use the Internet to increase growth and gain profits for hearing health care practices serving mostly seniors in a moderately sized community? The answer given by the majority of hearing health care providers and manufacturers is a “qualified yes.” The answer is qualified because of the negatives that first need to be addressed.

This article will examine and address the most common objections to establishing an online presence for a hearing care professional’s private business/practice.

The Internet and Health Care

In 1999, consumers spent $93 million on over-the-counter medicine online.1

Between 1997 and 1998—the latest full year where data is available—spending on online advertising for nonprescription drugs more than doubled to $2.5 billion.1

According to a June 1999 Harris Poll, users of the Internet seek out information on specific medical conditions:

  • Often—20%
  • Sometimes—43%
  • Hardly ever—23%
  • Never—15%

The proportion of female Internet shoppers online grew to 38% in 1999, up from 29% in 1998, according to Nielsen Research.

1. Wellner AS: Casting the health.net. Amer Demographics 2000; March: 46-49.

Global Versus Local Outreach
One of the key objections to establishing a website is that the Internet is a global medium, and marketing a business/practice through such a medium represents a waste of resources. If a hearing care professional was to use the Internet as his/her only marketing tool, it would be a serious concern. However, few good marketers feel they can abandon all other marketing pursuits just because they have an ad in the yellow pages, for example. Likewise, other forms of marketing should not be abandoned just because one uses the Internet.

There are a number of specific ways in which the Internet can be used to help a hearing care business/practice in a particular market area. These include:

Letting consumers know about you and your business/practice: A website provides the opportunity to present what amounts to an almost unlimited amount of information concerning a practice and its products and sevices. The website can be advertised on all business cards, letterhead and stationary. It should also be noted in all forms of a practice’s advertising. Prospective patients can visit the website to learn more about you, the staff and the services offered. This information can be sorted in an organized fashion, include photos and be as detailed as one likes. Also, including a clear map to the hearing care office, complete with local landmarks, can help ease the fears of older clients, prevent them from getting lost and provide a sense of familiarity with your business.

Promoting hearing education and quality health care: The Internet is the ideal place to state solid, factual information about hearing loss and hearing health care options. Your website can provide a place where people can learn what to expect from hearing care professionals and how they can seek help in remedying their hearing loss.

Positioning and improving the image of the practice: How often do you see the website address of a major company listed in their advertising? Every time. The Internet is the fastest-growing resource for information regarding products and services. The public views use of the Internet as an indication of a progressive, up-to-date company that is a leader in its field. Even a one-page informational site with a staff photo, map and contact information denotes a technology-savvy office.

Testing advertising and marketing programs prior to investing large sums of money: A website can be used to post advertisements or marketing programs, then guage how they might perform in newsletters and small print ads. Consumer reaction can be monitored and evaluated, and ineffective programs eliminated before precious advertising dollars are allocated to those ads/programs.

Generating New Referrals: When used in conjunction with other forms of advertising, a website can be used to obtain the names and addresses of potential customers. The use of contests, special programs, open houses, coupons, free hearing testing days, etc., can be directed to your market area from the website effectively at a much lower cost than conventional marketing programs. The referrals generated from such programs can be used to increase sales.

Web-Literate Seniors
A recent newspaper article notes that new research “shows that seniors now constitute the fastest growing group of Net users in America.” There are now over 12-million seniors using the Internet, a 106% increase over the previous year. According to the research firm International Data Corp., the number of seniors online is expected to triple to over 34 million within the next five years, representing 20% of all new Internet users.

Not only will there be more seniors online, but they are also expected to spend more time researching their needs. A study by Packard-Bell found that seniors average 12 hours per week on the Internet compared to 10 hours for younger male adults.

Constructing and Maintaining a Website
How large of a newspaper ad would it take to provide the same amount of information that you can publish on a website, and how much would that newspaper ad cost? The goal of advertising your services on the Internet should not be to compete on the global market and have your site appear at the top of the major search engine listings. The goal should be to appear whenever someone types in the name of your hometown/area and keywords that relate to hearing care.

Constructing a website to provide information concerning your business and bringing prospective customers into your office through local advertising using smaller, cost-effective ads is the best way to use the Internet.

The cost of designing a website will vary depending on the design company and the content that the hearing care professional wishes to display. One thing is for certain: there are a lot of options. Even a one-time, static website that shows prospective customers your location, services, product offerings, etc., can serve as an excellent introduction to your practice/business. In many cases, the cost is less than would be paid for a yellow pages ad.

Summary
It’s becoming increasingly clear that the Web should become a component in any hearing care provider’s marketing strategy. With computer technology moving swiftly and the population’s increasing need for instant access to information, it only makes sense to have and maintain a Web presence.

No one would consider opening a dispensing office without a phone, so why would anyone ignore the fastest growing conduit for health-related information? A well designed, professional website—particularly one that is actively managed and maintained using a continuous program—will be an increasingly important component of a successful hearing health care practice.

Correspondence can be addressed to HR or Phillip A. Burney, MA, Business Tools Online, 6213 Charlotte Pike, Ste. 210, Nashville, TN 37209; email: [email protected].

This article was submitted to HR by Phillip A. Burney, MA, VP of Internet Development for Business Tools Online, Nashville, TN, an application service provider that specializes in hearing health care websites.

This article was submitted to HR by Phillip A. Burney, MA, VP of Internet Development for Business Tools Online, Nashville, TN, an application service provider that specializes in hearing health care websites.