Healthcare Sites Should Tailor Content to Users, Experts Say

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ORLANDO, FL -- If content is king, healthcare Web sites are missing out on the royal feast.

Experts at the recent Web Site Content Management for Healthcare conference here urged consumer and professional health Web sites to step up their content and customer relationship management.

Although 26 percent of users say they are very satisfied with the current health information on the Internet, many more are satisfied with information they receive from doctors (64 percent), medical journals (51 percent) and friends (36 percent).

The problem, according to one speaker, is that most healthcare Web sites are not personalized.

"You need data mining and content management. That site should appear as if it is designed specifically for that user," said Gary Rancourt, senior vice president of account services and product marketing at Softwatch Inc., Edison, NJ.

All of the site's content is not needed by all users at all times. "Pick a teachable moment to deliver the information," Rancourt said.

For example, an article about a child with epilepsy could appear on a health site only to consumers interested in the topic. On MSWatch, a site for people with multiple sclerosis, patients can track their medicine injections and responses in their personal daily diary. The site also promotes interaction among users with its community message boards, buddy messenger service and chat rooms.

Users of nutrition and weight loss Web sites also would appreciate this type of personalization, because users would be able to set up their own diet plans and goals, according to Rancourt.

Rancourt also suggested allowing users to publish their personal stories or tips on the site, to add both content and interactivity among users.

Rick Kemmerer, managing director at Boomerang Pharmaceutical Communications, advised health Web sites on the best ways to use original and licensed content.

Original content can take the form of columns by guest experts, employee or inhouse expert articles, case studies, testimonials, newsletters or a local angle on a news story. Question-and-answer sessions with opinion leaders, as well as chat rooms, provide valuable interactive content.

Licensed content can be obtained from news feeds, other health sites and organizations such as the American Heart Association.

In addition, healthcare Web sites should link to information on other sites.

"Do not be afraid to send people off of your site. People tend to surf in multiple windows, and it adds credibility to your site," Kemmerer said.

Health Web sites also can create a co-branded section with a company or organization that is considered an expert on the topic. "It gives them exposure, and your traffic is helped by getting free content," Kemmerer said.

When implementing a content strategy, site executives first must hire an editor, writers, experts and a review board. Along with editorial skills, the site editor should have business and sales abilities, and preferably a knowledge of the industry.

Health sites should hire top-notch writers from electronic or print media, and not necessarily Webmasters and designers with some writing skills. "If you want engaging copy, you need to hire good writers," Kemmerer said.

The site's review board should generate ideas for content, discuss potential contributors, ensure that nonoriginal content is appropriate, and decide whether proposed links are suitable for the site.

To promote content locally, health sites should advertise in local city guide sites along with newspaper and television sites, or should swap content, Kemmerer said. He also suggested sending an initial e-mail to a local mailing list, with a link to sign up for a health newsletter.

Offline, content promotion can be disseminated among participating physicians' offices, facilities, direct mail, local newsletters, and local television and radio.

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