The next information challenge in healthcare involves consumer demand for good medical facts, and healthcare alliance VHA is mobilizing to help healthcare organizations before the wave hits.
VHA, based in Irving, Texas, announced last week the formation of a unit to quickly set up World Wide Web sites for VHA hospitals, maintain the sites and feed them with reliable content.
Fueling the initiative is the Internet's growing popularity as a source of medical information -- not all of it correct, up-to-date or easy for the average consumer to understand, said Scott Decker, senior director of business development in VHA's information services department.
Hospitals' awareness of this trend and its impact on healthcare came to a head during the past six months. And the trend is advancing so rapidly that VHA expects Web medical and healthcare content to become a major strategic initiative for healthcare organizations in the next six months.
To harness consumer demand and use it to competitive advantage, hospitals and healthcare systems that are connected to the Web can offer their service areas a familiar and trusted source of medical information, Decker said. That would give people an alternative to taking their chances on an Internet keyword search, and it could draw more visitors to the site for other provider information.
But first the provider needs a Web site.
According to VHA figures, only 50% of its 1,500 member organizations have a public Web site in operation. And of that group, 40% believe their site is not meeting their needs.
A package being developed by VHA provides a choice of four designs organized so consumers can efficiently navigate Web pages and find what they want, Decker said. The package, called Web Worx, adapted an IBM software product for the Web dubbed IBM HealthVillage Express.
The template-based installation reduces the time and money involved in using in-house staff to build a custom site for an individual provider, Decker said. Estimates of the VHA product's cost to members were not available.
He said the sites could be set up in 30 to 60 days. VHA is ready to install 10 to 20 sites during the next year.
Customers won't have to know the ins and outs of the Internet programming code, called hypertext markup language, or HTML, to add to or modify their site. That frees up technical staffers for other projects, he said.
VHA also researched and built a set of health content topics into the templates and organized them for consumer searches. Content delivered through a feed from VHA allows providers to review it before it hits the Web site, and time-sensitive information is monitored and removed at a predetermined date.
The consumer-oriented Web initiative differs from another project launched last year to create an Internet-style communication and data-transfer network among VHA members. That project, called VHAseCURE.net, has 80 member healthcare organizations connected at a subscription price of $35,000 a year.