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Kaiser Permanente Site Delivers Personalized Experience

Kaiser Permanente, the nation's largest nonprofit HMO with 8.1 million members, joins rivals like Aetna, Blue Cross/Blue Shield and United Healthcare with a new Web site organized by target audience.

Created by Chicago agency Critical Mass, the site at www.kaiserpermanente.org is designed as a one-stop shop for giving quick access to clinical and health plan information to the HMO's disparate constituencies. Development began in fall 2000. The new site launched in January, though sections are still being added.

“The strategy is to have users 'triage' themselves immediately into one of the audience types and further refine their profile through their actions on the site, netting out with an experience tailored to their needs,” said Dianne Wilkins, senior vice president and managing director of Critical Mass.

The home page makes apparent that intent. Visitors are asked to identify whether they are a member, prospective member, employer/administrator, insurance broker, media representative or job seeker.

Once the filtering process begins, users can navigate based on their needs. The Oakland, CA-based HMO's site offers services like booking appointments, refilling prescriptions for members, bill payment and employers changing employee information.

In addition, brokers can check their book of business online, and job seekers can file an application and build a profile on the site.

Other services like managing and accessing medical records for members will come on board as the technology is built.

Soon, audience segments will have the ability to manage their healthcare business through online medical records, Web visits, membership pre-qualification, custom benefit designs and business estimates.

Consider a typical scenario: a user wanting to refill her prescription for asthma medication. She clicks through the member segment on the home page. She immediately goes to a segment featuring content and navigation specific to her audience type.

Once there, she can opt to do research in the drug encyclopedia and enter her serving region to locate a pharmacy in the neighborhood. Alternatively, she can register to complete the prescription refill online.

So, based on the complexity, depth and security of her task, she can see the information, refine her need by entering minimal details regarding her state for local pharmacies or supply personal data to get a personal response for the drug refill.

“The guiding principle of asking users for information only when it was necessary helps ensure that users do not become bogged down by requests to enter their servicing region or complete a login before building trust,” Wilkins said. “This greatly simplifies the natural search for information.”

Kaiser previously had three sites: a members-only site requiring an immediate sign-in, a poorly organized public site and a third specific to member users in only one region of the country.

The common thread running through those sites was not visible, either. As every marketer serving multiple audiences knows, it is critical to maintain brand focus even while addressing diverse needs.

Also, in the old regime, basic information like locations and telephone numbers was included with little regard to audience specificity.

Moreover, in the offline world, these services offered by the HMO always come through a human contact — either a member services representative, sales associate or call center representative.

“In this Web site, all content, new and existing, was reorganized and, in many cases, improved to be salient to the particular audience segment so that Kaiser Permanente members never see sales messages,” said Debbie Cantu, director of brand marketing at the 59-year-old health maintenance organization.

From a back-end perspective, kaiserpermanente.org streamlines administrative and maintenance load through smarter processes and a content management system.

Of course, the case is easily made that Kaiser's site is no different from those of its peers. But the site does go deeper than others simply because its health plan members not only receive insurance from the company, but also medical care.

Kaiser Permanente operates in California, Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Ohio, Oregon, Virginia, Washington and Washington, DC. It has 30 hospitals, 431 medical office buildings and employs 136,511 people, including 11,000 physicians. According to the latest data, the company's operating revenue in 2002 was $22.5 billion.

The HMO now deploys online newsletters and site optimization and keyword buys to create awareness of its new site. Television ads call attention to the site, and the Web address also appears on collateral.

Kaiser Permanente sees potential in its site to change the way it does business, especially as surveys confirm the Internet's growing role in healthcare knowledge. Cantu cites a few reasons.

“First, it's what people — members, purchasers, job seekers — want,” she said. “And, second, it increases access to the system in a cost-effective way, helping to hold down the cost of healthcare.”

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