Sapient Boosts Health Membership and Increases Traffic to Its Web Site

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Three months after unveiling technical improvements to make it easier for advertisers to target specific sections of its membership base, Sapient Health Network is taking steps toward growing its membership and encouraging more frequent visits.


Currently, the Portland, OR-based online consumer health network (www.shn.net) has 110,000 members who have joined its disease-specific communities. Through the communities, members receive health information tailored to their needs and communicate with fellow sufferers and experts on their specific conditions. Members who join don't have to pay a fee but must fill out information about themselves as a precursor to joining the service. The service now has an average of 26 medical facts per member. Members identities are kept confidential.


Among the newest traffic-boosting program created by the network is a partnership with the Oregon Health Sciences University School of Nursing. The partnership, similar to an arrangement Sapient already has with the University of California-San Francisco School of Nursing, will give network members access to the expertise of Oregon's School of Nursing faculty members. Under the agreement, faculty from Oregon's School of Nursing, all trained at the masters level, will moderate up to 10 live hourlong chats a month on health-related topics. In addition, they will answer questions posted by members on Sapient message boards.


Nursing schools have been chosen thus far as partners to provide health information not only because of their faculties' experience and knowledge but because the network found its members felt a high level of ease and comfort in talking with nurses, said James Kean, co-founder and president at Sapient.


"We've found that people like to talk to nurses on day-to-day issues more than doctors because they have a more practical life knowledge, they are more accessible and less forbidding," he said.


Separately, the company is studying other diseases in which there is enough interest to create more online communities. The network currently has 11 communities, including women's health, which addresses several conditions, and has the largest active community of hepatitis C sufferers at 13,500 members. It plans to add 10 more communities in the next 12 months, and is considering nervous system disorders, additional forms of cancer and even specific types of treatment, as new topics it may form communities around.


"We find that there are certain treatments that people identify with more than they identify with the disease," Kean said, noting that chemotherapy patients often think they have more in common with other chemotherapy patients than with other cancer sufferers. Similarly, a camaraderie has developed among diabetics who take the Warner-Lambert drug Rezulin, he said.


Meanwhile, in addition to adding to its services to increase traffic and interest in the site, the network is looking into stepping up advertising to draw in more new members. The company is exploring the possibilities of Internet advertising, particularly with portals such as Excite and Yahoo.
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