Personalize Web Portals to Improve Patient Satisfaction

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The healthcare industry has had to react to the "consumer in the driver's seat" almost as quickly as any other industry. Consumers are empowered. The number of people who have searched the Internet for healthcare information has doubled in two years to 98 million, with IntelliQuest predicting that the number will grow to 100 million by year-end.


Consumers are willing to spend money to get the kind of care they want. According to the federal Healthcare Financing Administration, private spending on healthcare exceeded $1.1 trillion in 1998. That number is expected to more than double by 2008.


Consumers also are dissatisfied. With the average time a physician spends with a patient at 15 minutes or less, consumers want more personalized care and information. And consumers want to manage their own care. According to a new study of patients and physicians by Harris Interactive and ARiA Marketing's research group, U.S. consumers want to manage their own healthcare through a combination of online, phone and nurse triage services. These findings are echoed by Pricewaterhouse- Coopers' Healthcast 2010, which found that "speed and service will be the keys to consumer satisfaction."


In this environment, e-health has become mandatory. Indeed, Web sites have evolved from the first static sites with brochure-like quality to interactive portals that serve as doorways to a variety of services and other sites. Just as mass marketing has given way to mass customization, one Web model will no longer fit all healthcare consumers.


As healthcare organizations scramble to provide a meaningful Web presence for their patients, value lies in differentiating the health portal to optimize the patient experience. The personal health portal, as part of a comprehensive customer relationship management program, can address many consumer desires and needs.


The CRM health portal provides local information from a provider that consumers trust, but much beyond that is a personalized health management tool accessed only by a secure password -- where patients can keep all of their health and insurance information in one place, make appointments and requests via e-mail with their physician's office, receive personalized information on subjects they choose, participate in support groups, and keep health calendars and health journals.


Amid the multitude of national healthcare sites, healthcare organizations can provide a community model targeted to local audiences rather than the entire U.S. market. The trusted name of the organization buys more credibility with area residents. Even better, control of content and features stays at the local, rather than national, level.


The CRM health portal is designed to manage and optimize interaction between patients, their physicians, hospitals, and other healthcare providers and information sources. The focus is on customer satisfaction and provider efficiency.


Remember the last time you had a routine office visit? The average visit is seven minutes to 15 minutes. You may have left with one or more unanswered questions or concerns. This experience is common because physicians are under pressure to do more in less time to reduce costs.


A physician connected to a CRM health portal will be able to say, "I know you may have questions about what we discussed today. Here's a card with an e-mail address where you can get more information. You also may send questions to me or attend my online chat session. My office staff can also send an electronic reminder to your Web calendar for your next visit. If you don't have Internet access, my front desk will provide more information."


A study funded by the American Medical Association found that the number of physicians communicating with patients via e-mail has tripled in less than one year, with 10 percent of physicians now sending or receiving e-mail from patients on a daily or weekly basis. While e-mail is certainly not a substitute for a physician's experience and intuition, it is an enhancement to the overall level of care physicians can provide, and physicians are responding to the overwhelming demand for it.


Direct mail and call centers are still beneficial and viable touch points in a comprehensive CRM solution. But while direct mail and call centers are one-dimensional, the CRM health portal is multidimensional and transactional. It is a new point of access to care and is a health management tool for patients and providers alike.


Patients gain tools to obtain, organize and personalize local and more trusted health information in an easily stored and accessible format. Providers are able to gather and respond to patient preferences more personally and efficiently with technology that "pushes" only the most relevant information to individuals, such as annual mammograms, when to get a flu shot, an appointment reminder or the warning signs of a heart attack, based on data in the CRM database. Evidence also is increasing that Web-enabled patient-provider interactions will enhance clinical outcomes, in both quality and cost control.


For example, Boston's CareGroup Inc. has cut the time for getting patients' medical history in the emergency room from an average of two hours to two seconds. This capability has reduced the cost of tracking down medical records at other facilities by hundreds of thousands of dollars and has improved health because waiting time for care is reduced.


Until CRM, market-driven customer service has been practically nonexistent in the healthcare delivery system. Ultimately, the health portal is designed to foster secure, interactive communications among hospitals, physicians, health plans, their patients and the larger community.


• Nancy V. Paddison is a marketing communications specialist at Customer Potential Management Corp., East Peoria, IL. Reach her at nanpadd@aol.com.
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