Hospitals have only recently launched their names into cyberspace, according to a recent survey.
In 1999, 57% of hospitals used the Internet in their marketing strategy, compared with 32% in 1997 and 17% in 1995, according to a survey conducted by Daniel+Douglas+Norcross, a Chattanooga, Tenn.-based marketing and communications firm, and HealthOnline, a Columbia, Md.-based developer of healthcare World Wide Web sites. The telephone survey questioned 350 marketing executives at hospitals about how they used the Internet in hospital marketing.
Hospitals are in the first stage of general Internet use and lag behind most other industries in tapping all aspects of the Web, says Daniel Fell, a partner at Daniel+Douglas.
"A lot of marketing people are struggling with, `Where do I start and how do I maintain it?' " Fell says.
While 91% of those who used the Internet had a Web site, most used it only to provide basic information about the hospital and its services. Fewer than half of the hospitals surveyed provided information about disease management or doctor referrals, communicated with patients or published an online newsletter.
The most popular applications included e-mail, employee recruitment, health education and posting of doctor directories.
Three-quarters of hospitals with more than 500 beds use the Internet, but only 43% of those with fewer than 100 beds and 66% of those with 100 to 499 beds do so.
Larger hospitals use the Internet more innovatively, the survey found.
"There's a big difference between small sites that provide an online brochure and the large sites like Johns Hopkins' Intelihealth," says David Shepherd, director of the study and a marketing professor at Kennesaw (Ga.) State University. Intelihealth provides an online newsletter, organizes live chats and sells products such as air purifiers.
Survey respondents said they had not developed their sites more because of a lack of knowledge, cost and maintenance issues.
On average, hospitals spent only $25,000 developing their Web sites. In 1999 hospitals dedicated one full-time-equivalent employee to update and maintain the site and spent an average of $9,000, or only 3.5% of their marketing budget, on the Internet.
Despite the increase in hospital Internet use, only 23% of respondents had a formal process to evaluate the return on their Internet marketing.
"Hospitals are winging it and being somewhat reactive about putting things out there, but very quickly (they) will be held more accountable for the investment they're making," Fell said.