Your practice web site: managing e-mail and online appointment booking (Proceedings)


In today's world, you and your veterinary team cannot expect to succeed without an Internet presence. The days of NOT having access to the Internet should be long over, in your mind.

In today's world, you and your veterinary team cannot expect to succeed without an Internet presence. The days of NOT having access to the Internet should be long over, in your mind. From a practical standpoint, you must look at the bigger picture and the fact of the matter is that today's world revolves around technology.

If your practice does not have a website, get one immediately. Your website should be your practice's "online brochure". If you are struggling with what your website should say, simply start with your practice's printed brochure. Duplicate the content as much as possible; making sure everything is up-to-date and relevant. Be sure you are designing your website to fit the look and feel of the other marketing tools you have already developed for your practice, or that you update your printed materials to reflect your website's design.

If you are not sure where to begin, there are several companies in the veterinary industry who have customizable website templates and online hosting packages available. When reviewing these products, you should consider several things:

     • How customizable is the site? Can you add your own logo and make changes easily?

     • Does the site come with a client education library?

     • Does the site allow for clients to request or schedule appointments via the website?

     • Can you attach a blog or secondary website to the template?

     • Can you upload your own photos and use them instead of or in place of photos available within the template?

     • How many email address contact points can you post to the site?

     • How many different pages or tabs are available to you, for future expansion and information?

     • Does the site allow for a Pet Portals, Facebook or Twitter widget to be used?

These are all important questions to ask your provider and yourself, based on what you envision your clients using to interact with and find your practice. It may not be possible to do "live scheduling" of appointments via your website, and you may not ever want your clients to have that capability, but you need to consider some method of online appointment scheduling. A simple approach to this would be to have an online form that the client completes, requesting an appointment. Fields you may have them complete should include:

     • First and last name

     • Best method to reach them (email address or phone number)

     • Desired appointment date

     • Name of veterinarian they would like to see

     • Best time of day for an appointment (give a range of time choices, rather than specific times)

     • Patient's name

     • Reason for appointment

In addition to these fields, it is important to inform the client that your practice will respond to their request within 24 hours (or some other reasonable timeframe), so there is an understanding and expectation that your response will not necessarily be immediate. This form can then be automatically submitted to a designated email address that is checked by a reliable and responsible member of your client service team.

Another important disclaimer to list is that if the client has an emergency, to please call a designated phone number and seek immediate veterinary care. You do not want clients waiting for an appointment request to be processed online when their pet needs emergency care.

Most website hosting packages will include a bank of email addresses. Most will have at least 10 available email addresses to use. I would encourage you to assign practice email addresses to each veterinarian and every other staff member, if at all possible. The larger your staff, the more important this becomes as email has become a highly used business communication tool. For larger practices, consult with your IT consultant for private mail servers, as you will have more complete control in terms of security, spam filters, and administration of your email. Whether you are communicating internally, or with your existing and potential client base, email and your practice website are vital to your success!

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