On­line and on tar­get

Hos­pi­tals add so­phis­ti­ca­tion to their web­sites, im­prov­ing value to pa­tients

Modern Healthcare - - Information Edge -

An im­por­tant goal of hos­pi­tal web­site de­sign is a sim­ple one: Help peo­ple find what they’re look­ing for quickly. And thanks to the abil­ity to record ev­ery click and ev­ery search, ar­gu­ments over what peo­ple are look­ing for can be set­tled fairly eas­ily. So, for ev­ery CEO who feels his or her stir­ring letter to the com­mu­nity de­serves the most prom­i­nent space on a web­site’s home­page, there is data to back up the web­site de­signer who can show that the “Find a Doc­tor,” “Lo­ca­tions” and “Jobs” pages are what the com­mu­nity is truly in­ter­ested in and what winds up driv­ing an in­sti­tu­tion’s In­ter­net traf­fic.

Hos­pi­tal web­sites also are start­ing to re­flect in­no­va­tion and ma­tu­rity with in­ter­ac­tive por­tals that give pa­tients ac­cess to their test re­sults, med­i­cal bills and doc­tors’ sched­ules. Physi­cians can now in­tro­duce them­selves via on­line videos and pro­files, and ed­u­ca­tional ma­te­ri­als can be de­vel­oped based on track­ing what vis­i­tors key into the site’s search en­gine.

For a small hos­pi­tal, cre­at­ing a ba­sic web­site can run be­tween $25,000 and $50,000, while a high-end prod­uct for a large health­care sys­tem can “eas­ily get into the $1 mil­lion to $2 mil­lion” range, says Roy Chomko, pres­i­dent of Adage Tech­nolo­gies, a Chicago-based web­site de­vel­op­ment, main­te­nance and host­ing com­pany. “The larger the or­ga­ni­za­tion, the more com­pli­cated it’s go­ing to be.”

Chomko notes how web­site “heat maps” can be de­vel­oped that show ex­actly how web traf­fic flows, which pages vis­i­tors click on and de­tailed data on spe­cific pages. He says that in­for­ma­tion can be used to set­tle ar­gu­ments about where the physi­cian bios should go and where the CEO’s blog should be placed.

“The way to change their minds,” he says, is to say to the CEO, “Here’s the num­ber of clicks you’re get­ting, and here’s the num­ber for ‘Find a Doc­tor’—and we’re giv­ing you prime real es­tate.”

Wil­liam Rice, pres­i­dent of the Web Mar­ket­ing As­so­ci­a­tion, says his or­ga­ni­za­tion has been eval­u­at­ing the web­sites for 96 in­dus­tries since 1997, and he notes that most early hos­pi­tal web­sites could be clas­si­fied as “brochure-ware” that didn’t take ad­van­tage of the in­ter­ac­tive fea­tures the In­ter­net of­fers. “They were a lit­tle late to the game be­cause a lot of hos­pi­tals didn’t see the im­me­di­ate value of web­sites en­gag­ing vis­i­tors,” Rice says. That’s in part be­cause “a hos­pi­tal will al­ways count on its af­fil­i­ated physi­cians to re­ally drive its busi­ness,” he says.

A key func­tion of a hos­pi­tal web­site is to high­light an in­sti­tu­tion’s ex­per­tise, but it can also help an or­ga­ni­za­tion dis­cover its short­com­ings by mea­sur­ing if vis­i­tors are spend­ing a lot of time search­ing for in­for­ma­tion on par­tic­u­lar ser­vices their in­sti­tu­tion doesn’t of­fer, Rice says.

Ac­cord­ing to Rice, hos­pi­tal web­sites also have to avoid look­ing “in­sti­tu­tional” and need to of­fer user-friendly func­tions such as post­ing items in English as well as other lan­guages—es­pe­cially in highly di­verse com­mu­ni­ties—and al­low­ing vis­i­tors to in­crease the size of the text for eas­ier read­ing.

“One of the things that can re­ally ruin a hos­pi­tal web­site is if it’s or­ga­nized in si­los,” Rice says, com­par­ing this type of web­site to a hos­pi­tal, where the dif­fer­ent de­part­ments com­mu­ni­cate poorly. “The best web­sites, as with the best hos­pi­tals, have ev­ery­one work­ing to­gether.”

Never a fin­ished prod­uct

Rice says that web­sites are per­pet­ual works in progress, and that hos­pi­tals need to keep this in mind.

“Some­times or­ga­ni­za­tions say, ‘We’ve in­vested all this money. Let’s sit on it for a while un­til we get our re­turn on in­vest­ment,” he says.

Ten-hos­pi­tal Ale­gent Health, based in Omaha, Neb., took the op­po­site ap­proach. In 2007, 2008 and 2009, its web­site won sev­eral awards for con­tent and de­sign, but Ale­gent em­barked on a re­design that went live this past De­cem­ber.

“Awards are great, but the goal is to cre­ate the best con­sumer-pa­tient ex­pe­ri­ence,” says Matthew McCahill, Ale­gent’s eHealth mar­ket­ing chief.

The re­design also co­in­cided with Ale­gent’s wide­spread launch of its MyHealthCare pa­tient Web por­tal, which of­fers se­cure ac­cess for re­quest-

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