Managing Online Health Information

By Joanne Cawley

During the last decade, the Internet has dramatically changed our lives. Information, services, products, and communication are now just a mouse-click away. Because of its accessibility to the public, the Internet is the method of choice in obtaining data on most any subject for many.

Over 100 million people turn to the Internet for healthcare information each year. The World Wide Web is flooded with information for the continuously growing number of health-seekers. Since the Internet is open to anyone with a URL, there is often incorrect, outdated, or misleading health information accessible to consumers. Not only can this type of information lead to adverse clinical outcomes, it can also tarnish the image of the site hosting the information.

The Truth is Out There

Healthcare organizations have a responsibility to make sure the information they have posted for online viewing is accurate and up-to-date. This holds true whether the content is:

  • Written by you or your staff,
  • Purchased from a reliable source, or
  • Made available via a direct link from your site to another site.

When managing online information, it is critical to review each Web page and verify that all information is not only correct, but also current. By keeping your content fresh and accurate, your customers know that you stand behind all the information on your website, thus growing their confidence in your organization. With confidence, loyalty follows.

One way you can assure your visitors that the content they are viewing is accurate and current is to apply for the Code of Conduct Seal from the Health on the Net Foundation. This self-regulatory, voluntary certification system was started as a means of raising the quality of medical and health-related information on the Web. The foundation’s Code of Conduct is based on eight guiding principles dealing with all aspects of information from attribution to confidentiality. It lets your readers know the source and purpose of the content on your site is reliable.

Avoiding User Error

Once you know your content is accurate and reliable, you need a strategy to attract your target market to your site. Whether consumers are researching physician referrals, information on medical conditions, legislation, or classes on healthy living, accessing your website can be an effective tool for you to keep users in constant contact with your organization.

The following are some ways to help you keep your website appealing while attracting repeat visitors:

  • Make sure your website is effortless to navigate. Keep the information and links simple to locate, and your viewers will want to visit your site since they can easily find what they are looking for without getting frustrated. To ensure this, have a few individuals “test drive” your site via a dial-up connection and look for slow loading pages or broken links.
  • Conduct an online survey to determine what type of viewer is accessing your site and any specific pages they visit regularly. Although many visitors will be searching for health information for themselves, be sure to consider the family health manager, caretakers, and treatment or medication information seekers. You may need to alter your Web pages to fit the demographics accordingly.
  • Keep current news and information right on the home page. Information on flu symptoms, vaccines, and other timely topics will reinforce your website’s reputation as being one step ahead of the needs of your customers.
  • Work with a local news station to develop a consumer health segment during a newscast. While providing helpful health-related information, you can also promote your website. Some call centers have paired up with a local network affiliates. They air a weekly segment with a physician who discusses a variety of consumer-friendly topics. During the segment, viewers are encouraged to visit their website to submit questions, to search for further information or contact the call center to discuss specific health issues with a nurse.

Offering Self-Service

Consider allowing your customers to:

  • Conduct physician searches
  • Register for classes
  • View health information

In a recently conducted survey by McKesson, 53% of respondents stated they currently use Web functionality in their call center to deliver everything from health information to triage. An additional 20% of respondents said they plan to implement Web functionality within the next 24 months. As this communication tool continues to grow in the health delivery system, it is increasingly important to differentiate your site by offering accurate, confidential, and unique services via the Web.

Joanne M. Cawley is the Marketing Communications Specialist for McKesson Health Solutions.

[From the April/May 2005 issue of AnswerStat magazine]