Of course your practice has a website. Maybe it’s old. Maybe it’s being updated. But, the following lessons apply to almost anyone and everyone in healthcare.
In no particular order, here are some tips:
- Make sure YOU own your content.I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard from a doctor who had an untoward outcome after working with a vendor that created their site, added content, and then maintained the site. This relationship triggered monthly payments (like an annuity). Over time the doctor appropriately questioned what the vendor was REALLY doing. Nothing seemed to be changing on the site. So, the doctor would terminate the relationship.That’s when the doctor learns in the fine print that he does not own his content. He licenses it from the vendor. Terminate the relationship, and the content goes bye-bye. No content will be transferred to a new vendor. Hasta la vista, baby.
In that situation, the handcuffs are on. Either you continue making monthly payments ad infinitum, or you start over.
Solution: Before you get started, make sure the engagement agreement specifies you own any content and graphics on your site. Next, make sure you own the domain name, including any passwords to access the site. In the agreement, state that if you do terminate the relationship, the vendor will assist with transfer to a new vendor. Vendors who are confident in their abilities and business practices will gladly agree. Those who deliver mediocre work or have shady business practices will think of every way to handcuff you.
- Be careful about using images that are copyright protected.Infringing on someone’s copyright can be expensive. Particularly if you are sued. If a third party creates a photo, logo, or graphic image, then, it’s already copyright protected, whether or not they register it with the Library of Congress. It’s their work and you need their permission to use it for anything other than what is called “fair use.” If you are promoting your website for commercial purposes, then using copyright protected images is generally not considered “fair use.”Not uncommonly, a website designer will scan the Internet for images that match his emerging aesthetic for your site. Then, cut and paste. While your web site might look pretty, you probably now have a legal headache.
Solution: Use you own images and pictures. If you create them yourself, or as a work for hire, you own the copyright. Then, if someone steals your pictures, you can protect your turf. This stuff cuts both ways.
If you want to use images from elsewhere, make sure they are free to license (eg: from Creative Commons). Or purchase a license from the creator and/or licensor.
Finally, make sure your website designer indemnifies you for any legal grief that might be caused by copyright. So, if they do bring home something from the Internet that belongs to someone else, you’re not be the the only one at risk. By the way, it’s no excuse to blame the website designer. The “infringee” will sue you. Any indemnification agreement allows you to get paid back.
- Be careful about making bold claims.A manufacturer recent made a bold claim about its charging cables – those that connect your computer to USB devices and the like. They said some of the shielding was coated with Kevlar, the same material found in bullet proof vests. The claim was that these cables are stronger than ordinary cables. The implied subtext (correct, it was not explicit) was that it could withstand a bullet. If your charging cable is being shot at, you likely have a bigger problem than the longevity of the cable. Still, ArsTechnica took the implied claim to the firing range. While the cable was strong, it was no match for a bullet. The public’s mockery came on like a tsunami. Be careful about bold claims.If you’re in healthcare and make any claims, you are regulated by advertising mandates from your licensing board. Virtually every state medical and dental licensing boards (and the Federal Trade Commission) demand that any claims you make be substantively true. No hyperbole. If you say you’re the best bariatric surgeon in Oklahoma City, you better have some objective, statistically sound documentation to support that premise.What about being voted the Best Doctor in Us Weekly? I don’t know. Perhaps you can state you were voted the Best Doctor in Us Weekly, but, it will likely need a disclaimer – stating that it represents a non-random sampling of the local population who may or may not have been treated by you. And more disclaimer sentences.I know some doctors make bold claims on their site. But, it’s not a problem until it’s a problem. Be careful about making claims about your medical or dental results (unless they are backed up with sound data), your certifications, and your background, training, and experience. And some Boards of Medicine / Dentistry have even more changing restrictions.
- Your “Contact Us” form.If your “Contact Us” form is used as a communication platform with established patients, it needs to be HIPAA compliant. So, that data needs to be transmitted securely (that means https protocol), and then stored securely. You average webmaster will likely not think of these details unless he is shoulder-deep in healthcare experience.Next, you need to manage expectations. Disclaimers, disclaimers, disclaimers. For prospective patients, a disclaimer must state that merely filling out the form does NOT create a doctor-patient relationship. Any emergent or urgent condition should be seen in ER or call 911. That disclaimer about urgent or emergent conditions applies also for established patients. You website should not be the primary conduit for a patient getting in touch for anything that is time sensitive. Make sure your patients understand how email, texting, and website can and will be used down the road.Finally, any items that come in from established patients becomes part of the medical record and needs to be documented.
Take Home Message:
Lots to think about. And, yes, there’s more. But, just find a reputable, trusted webmaster that knows healthcare. Asking about the above four points will help you navigate to a better choice.