Eight out of 10 Internet users look online for health information, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project. But those users won't find about one-third of all HME providers because they don't have a website, estimated Jeremy Kauten, general manager of VGM Forbin.
Compare that to the 86% of small businesses nationwide who are now online, according to the National Small Business Association.
"The traditional business model is marketing to referral sources, not patients," said Kauten. "They may not be aware that patients are going home to search the web for them, or a case manager might look online to check up on them."
The fundamentals Kauten recommends include a catalog that shows what products you carry, without listing every SKU of bandage; your phone number and location addresses displayed clearly; a feedback form to allow users to contact you; and a company profile page that doesn't hesitate to brag about your certifications and accomplishments.
Photos showing your employees helping patients are also a great addition.
"The more people they see, the more patients and caregivers can relate," said Kauten.
The site's there, now how will people find you? Make sure it's built in a search engine-friendly way, said Kauten, like bolding keywords users might search for. But today, effective search engine optimization, or SEO, requires an outlay of cash.
"Years ago, it was free to get listed on Google," said Kauten. "People undervalue the paid (listings)...but the paid can make your free (results) better."
For optimal results, Kauten recommends consulting or hiring a professional.
"Anyone can do it, but when you hire someone else, you can maximize your money," he said. "Professional SEOs are good at finding ways to get you down to under $1 a click."
When providers finally make the move online, it's rarely one they regret.
"When they start getting feedback forms, they'll say, 'Wow, that was 20 customers I never would have reached otherwise,'" said Kauten. "Otherwise it might have gone to the other guy."