Health Web sites strive to make surfers comfortable

August 1, 2006

The healthcare industry as a whole seems to be revisiting, and placing greater emphasis on, Web-based tools and information, as evidenced by the abundance of recent online activity. Not only are the big healthcare market research companies dedicating their time and resources to providing some insight on what a useful health Web site looks like, but industry organizations such as URAC and a variety of health plans are paying more attention as well.

The healthcare industry as a whole seems to be revisiting, and placing greater emphasis on, Web-based tools and information, as evidenced by the abundance of recent online activity. Not only are the big healthcare market research companies dedicating their time and resources to providing some insight on what a useful health Web site looks like, but industry organizations such as URAC and a variety of health plans are paying more attention as well.

Establishing credibility among Web surfers is among the biggest challenges, according to URAC's Annette Watson, RN, CCM, MBA, chief accreditation officer and vice president and general manager, client services. URAC is an independent, nonprofit organization that promotes healthcare quality through its accreditation and certification programs.

Taking the high road was a motivator for Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, as well. Wise plans will anticipate future needs and use Web site development as an opportunity to increase collaboration with physicians and employers, ultimately leading to better relationships for all healthcare stakeholders, according to Dean Blumetti, MBA, Horizon's manager of member-focused innovation, clinical innovations.

"We at Horizon, like other health plans, are always looking for ways to differentiate ourselves in the marketplace, and designing personalized, interactive Web sites that engage our members is one way to do that-especially in light of the increasing interest in consumer-directed health plans (CDHPs)," Blumetti says. "But it's also an opportunity for plans to become more like healthcare partners than vendors. When employers approach us to help them develop cost estimators or risk assessments for their members, it's an opportunity for us to tighten the relationship with our customers by meeting their specific needs and helping them achieve their long-term, strategic goals."

Interactivity for visitors can drastically affect the long-term usefulness of a health-related Web site, according to Bob Lipp, president of Health Site Guide Inc. (HSG), a consumer-oriented healthcare portal with presearched links to more than two dozen health-related Web sites.

"Our entire portal is designed to be interactive in as many ways as possible, including links to medical encyclopedias, video clips and drug information," he says. The site was intended to help answer questions for those who search with "a degree of anxiety," by offering fast, thorough access to a wide range of healthcare information.

Regarding interactivity beyond linking to information contained on Web sites, Lipp suggests that "sometimes people have a reticence-both online and in real life-to talk about their experiences, especially about something as personal as health issues. But for those who are seeking that kind of person-to-person interaction, we also added an online forum to the site, as well."

HSG's Web site has "presearched" information that provides direct links to videos, drug interaction information, medical encyclopedias and elder care.