by Angela Weber
Digital marketing tools like Web sites and e-mail communication
are already common tools for orthodontic practices, and
even Facebook pages are becoming more widespread. But in this
realm of technological advances, apps for smartphones are a new
frontier. More and more small businesses, including independent
medical practices, are launching their own apps. Should
your practice be next?
The bar to entry for your practice having its own app is
lower and less expensive than you probably think. It might also
be more necessary. Considering about 200 million Americans,
or 65 percent of the U.S. population, will have either a smartphone
or a tablet by 2015, an app for your practice might one
day be as essential as a Web site.
To back up a little for the uninitiated, an app is short for
"application," the name for a program that runs on smartphones.
The most popular tend to be games, but these apps can
also be tools to help people count calories, make to-do lists or
post messages to social networking sites. Many businesses have
developed their own apps as smartphone extensions of their
Web sites, and for certain users who are always on the go, these
mobile apps even supersede the main sites.
For example, Amazon and eBay apps allow users to browse
goods and make purchases via apps right on their smartphones,
and the user experience is customized for the handheld touch
screen. These days, just about every decent-sized Web site offers
an app version.
If your practice were to get an app, what would it include?
To decide, consider what would be helpful to your current
patient base and the fact that they'll turn to your app when they
need information in a pinch. In general, the app should make
your patients' lives easier and make their treatment as convenient
as possible. Just as with Amazon's and eBay's apps, your app
should be an extension of your Web site in a convenient format
for mobile use. Some ideas of things to include are:
Granted, all this information is available from any computer
connected to the Internet, so you might wonder why you need
an app for it. The app also offers an improved functionality and
ease of use for patients accessing your site through a mobile
device. Another reason is because if your patients are on their
phones a lot, that's where you should be, too. In addition, an
app will position your practice as forward-thinking and tech
savvy, something that will particularly appeal to your teenage
patients and their busy parents.
- Contact info and hours
- Location maps
- E-mail contact forms
- Doctor and staff profiles
- Emergency and after-hours information
- Informative care videos
- Facebook, Twitter and news updates
What's more, apps offer you the ability to conveniently reach
out to patients with practice news updates and treatment care
reminders. Patients have easy access to your practice and your
treatment guidance will benefit their outcome.
And even when it's not being used, the app can serve a marketing
purpose. The app occupies a space on your patients'
phones in the form of a small logo. This is the logo they'll see
every day, many times a day, whenever they look at their phones. Since they are being constantly reminded of your practice, they
will be more likely to think of you when a referral opportunity
To get started on building your app, you have a few options.
One avenue is to hire a programmer to create a customized app
for your practice. Just as with any other business service, you can
find an app developer by asking colleagues for referrals. A good
fit would be a developer that has experience in the health-care
industry and understands an app's patient benefits.
Another option is to build your own app with a number of sites
that have sprung up for this very purpose – to give small businesses
an affordable way to gain a foothold on consumers' smartphones.
Once the app is designed, it's time to distribute it, and your
developer or app-making site should be able to help you through
this process. Even when apps are free like yours, all apps for
iPhones and iPads need to be distributed through Apple's iTunes
store. Apps for the Android operating system don't have a centralized
distribution point, but the largest one is Google's Android
Market. Apple has a more complex approval process than Google
does and might reject apps for style and technical issues.
Once your app is ready for download, you can start publicizing
it on your Web site. Mention it to your patients when
they come in the office. Many will be eager to download it. It's
a fun way for them to connect with your practice.
If you are not ready to enter the world of app development,
an alternative solution is to make sure your Web site works well
with the small screens of mobile devices. Your Web site designer
can create a mobile option for your current site or create a separate
mobile site altogether.
Apps are new tools which can add a touch of tech-savvy
excitement to your practice. Just as the number of Web users
grew in the 1990s, the number of smartphone users is only
going to keep growing. Now is as good a time as any to adapt to
this new technology. Over time, apps for the health-care industry
will come into greater abilities. Their potential is only beginning
to be explored, and by starting now, your practice will be
already out in front.