The VHA hospital alliance is rolling out a treasure-trove of medical information on the Internet as part of a marketing campaign to boost consumer allegiance to its member hospitals and their affiliated physicians.
Called Laurus-from the Latin for laurel, an ancient symbol of champions-the Internet site provides consumer health information on commonly prescribed medical tests and drugs, cutting-edge treatments and even the latest medical news reported by Reuters.
For the few who are unable or unwilling to use the Internet, VHA has flipped the switch on a 24-hour-a-day call center to field consumer inquiries on the same topics.
Besides obtaining voluminous and timely medical information, consumers can tap into Laurus (www.laurus.com) for information on nearby VHA hospitals and to select affiliated doctors. Starting perhaps as early as next year, the site will also feature comparative performance data that VHA is developing in a related quality initiative.
The information blitzkrieg is the latest in VHA's efforts to counter sinking public confidence in healthcare providers and to separate its hospitals from the pack (Jan. 26, p. 2). The 1,700-member alliance and participating hospitals hope the information combination will buoy consumer trust while spurring referrals.
Detailed physician profiles, including individual Web pages, are a key feature of the site. VHA expects doctors to embrace the voluntary service.
"Consumers have told us that they know more about buying a lawn mower than they do about picking a primary-care physician," said Kelly Breazeale, senior group vice president for VHA.
The knowledge gap is troubling because consumers regularly choose new doctors. In market research conducted last year, VHA asked consumers whether their household had changed or added a physician during the preceding two years. The data showed that about half of the roughly 100 million American households had done so, VHA said.
By providing an easy, powerful tool to help consumers grappling with care choices, participating VHA hospitals and their doctors hope to build a lasting bridge to consumers.
VHA said spending on the Laurus project is "substantial" but declined to discuss specifics.
In addition to its direct appeal to consumers, Laurus is a tool to improve doctor loyalty. The site includes a password-protected area with specialized information for physicians. VHA-affiliated physicians will be able to securely exchange information to help with long-distance consultations on difficult cases, for instance.
Last week, Laurus debuted in Oklahoma with two VHA shareholders: Integris Health, Oklahoma City, which owns 12 hospitals and operates three others, and Hillcrest Healthcare System, Tulsa, which leases one hospital and operates two others.
For the launch, Integris uncorked a media blitz that included TV coverage, a full-page ad in the local newspaper and and ad on America Online.
"Our hope, obviously, is that . . . the Laurus effort will be a distinct service to consumers in this area and, as a result, that it will serve as a competitive advantage to our physicians and institutions," said Stanley Hupfeld, president and chief executive officer of Integris Health.
Early next month, Halifax Community Health Center, Daytona Beach, Fla., will become the third VHA system to go live with Laurus. After Laurus has run successfully in these markets for a few months, VHA will expand the service nationwide, the alliance said.