Health Care Moving Sites Beyond Brochureware

FRAMINGHAM (04/28/2000) - Most health care organizations use their Web sites primarily for promotion or recruiting purposes, according to a recent survey, yet some are adding additional functions, such as interactivity between doctors and patients.

But these types of transformations come at a hefty cost. Most health care providers will have to spend between $250,000 and $1 million to create a Web site that goes beyond "brochureware," according to Briggs Pille, a vice president at First Consulting Group Inc. in Long Beach, California.

In addition, many health care providers will need to upgrade their networks, because their current infrastructures can't handle serious traffic, said Simmi Singh, a vice president at SeraNova Inc., an Edison, New Jersey-based consultancy.

Network upgrades will be the "single most universal investment that health care institutions will make" this year, she said.

Upgrades Galore

Indeed, more than 40% of the 800 health care executives responding to the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) survey said they plan to upgrade their network infrastructures during the next 12 months.

In addition to money and technology, health care providers need to enlist the support of both physicians and patients to develop a successful Web strategy, according to Steve Flammini, director of application development at Partners HealthCare System Inc., a Boston-based network of hospitals and practitioners.

"It's important that this approach not be primarily driven by the IT organization. In order to succeed, you need to have M.D.'s influencing design of the [Web] system," he said.

Partners has about a dozen licensed physicians with some IT expertise who have helped the organization develop its Web strategy. That strategy includes a physician Web portal that provides clinical applications, patient education materials, collaboration tools and access to doctors affiliated with the health care network, said Flammini. Approximately 1,000 physicians should have access to the portal within the next year.

To handle high-volume transactions, Partners stores its Web-enabled clinical applications in a multidimensional database, called Cache, from InterSystems Corp. in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Partners plans to conduct focus groups with patients over the next few weeks to get feedback on a Web site the organization designed for them. Currently in beta, the site will allow patients to refill prescriptions, ask physicians clinical questions and receive reference materials.

The portal, said Flammini, is intended to enable patients to perform ordinary tasks at home "rather than drive into Boston, find parking and wait in line for two hours."

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