Rice says that websites are perpetual works in progress, and that hospitals need to keep this in mind.
“Sometimes organizations say, ‘We've invested all this money. Let's sit on it for a while until we get our return on investment,” he says.
Ten-hospital Alegent Health, based in Omaha, Neb., took the opposite approach. In 2007, 2008 and 2009, its website won several awards for content and design, but Alegent embarked on a redesign that went live this past December.
“Awards are great, but the goal is to create the best consumer-patient experience,” says Matthew McCahill, Alegent's eHealth marketing chief.
The redesign also coincided with Alegent's widespread launch of its MyHealthCare patient Web portal, which offers secure access for requesting appointments, viewing mammography results, pre-registering for maternity services, and accessing education materials and Alegent news.
More functions are in the works, such as secure physician messaging, currently available only to the 180 doctors at the Alegent Health Clinic. (The system has more than 1,300 physicians practicing in 100 locations.) McCahill explains that sensitive information is not sent via e-mail, but patients receive an e-mail from the physician's office telling them they have a message available through the portal.
He says the portal was tested for a year and a half with 12,000 patients participating, and that an additional 1,000 people signed up for MyHealthCare in January as soon as it became more generally available.
Along with the Find a Doctor, Locations/Maps and Jobs pages, whose links are found on the top navigation bar, other frequently visited areas of the website can be found in the Quick Links drop-down menu on the top bar including Baby Photos, Financial Assistance, Pay My Bill and Volunteer. Links to those pages and others, such as to Alegent hospital Gift Shops pages, are also listed in the “footer” at the bottom of the page.
These links are prominently displayed and easily accessible because key words associated with them were among the items that website visitors were most frequently searching for. “We know where patients are going,” McCahill says, and that knowledge is used to channel the content.
For functions that include highly sensitive financial or medical information, a third-party vendor is used to make sure all the data are secure. A vendor is also used for the Baby Photos page because the high volume was becoming difficult for the staff to process.
“It was almost becoming a full-time job,” McCahill says.
The Alegent website also offers RSS instant news feeds, patient and physician blogs, links to Twitter and Facebook social media sites, and a YouTube channel offering hundreds of videos telling patient stories or offering information on specific medical conditions or health topics in the news.
The most-viewed videos cover heavy menstrual bleeding (more than 31,000 views), “Gina's Story” telling of a patient's recovery after a traffic accident (more than 24,000), and others on such varied topics as irregular heart beats, ankle surgery and the birth of quintuplets. One of the physician blogs—available under the Quick Links section—by cardiologist Eric Van De Graaff, is also posted on the Omaha World-Herald newspaper's “Live Well Nebraska” health and wellness website.