BY: THOMAS C. LAWRY
Mr. Lawry is president, Verus, Bellevue, WA.
While the Internet gets a lot of attention for expanding consumers' access to health information, another computer tool is revolutionizing the way healthcare workers share information inside their organizations. This tool, which uses the same technology as the Internet, is known as the "intranet."
An intranet is essentially a private internet that operates on a healthcare organization's secure internal network and is accessible to the organization's employees and physicians. Its purpose is to improve people's access to the information they need to do their jobs.
With an intranet, an organization can put necessary information at all its employees' fingertips. For example, an intranet is a great tool for managing the "how to" information that is required by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations and normally found in policy and procedure manuals. Such manuals are expensive to maintain and unwieldy to use. By creating a policy and procedure library on its intranet, a healthcare organization can dramatically reduce the effort and expense ordinarily involved. Authorized employees can access policies and procedures in a way that is fast, efficient, and practical.
An Intranet's Benefits
An intranet can, when effectively developed, produce benefits all managers have on their wish lists: increased productivity, streamlined processes, better teamwork, and empowered employees.
Consider the results at PeaceHealth, a Bellevue, WA-based healthcare system sponsored by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace. Since installing an intranet 18 months ago, PeaceHealth has documented six-figure cost savings through streamlining internal job applications, access to policies and procedures, and organizational surveys. Today 80 percent of PeaceHealth's 6,500 employees use the intranet at least once a month.
Tips on Creating an Intranet
The creation of an intranet does not in itself guarantee success, however. Here are some tips for building one that is effective.
Clearly Define Your Goals Before deploying any intranet technology, you should first decide which services you want it to provide. In showing how those services can support your organization's mission and goals, you will define the intranet's value.
"Make sure your intranet initiative is not a case of 'technology looking for a purpose,'" says Larry Paulson, vice president, information services, Catholic Health Initiatives (CHI), Tacoma, WA. "It is critically important to have the business goals and strategies drive the planning and development of an intranet."
Include Users on the Collaborative Intranet Team "A successful intranet requires a unique marriage of technical knowledge and business practice innovation," says Sharon Massey, intranet services leader for the Sisters of Providence Health System, Seattle. "Such a partnership should exist from the moment you decide to pursue an intranet. The skill set of an intranet team should include technical expertise for Internet technology. It should also include those who understand and relate to what is important to senior management and frontline users."
Strategic leadership will be an important element in the intranet team's success, says Paulson. "Although there should be active involvement by the IS [information services] division, the planning and development should be driven by someone who is clearly focused on the organization's business and operational goals."
Think Big But Start Small Although you need an overarching vision of the ways an intranet can benefit your organization, you should begin by implementing services that add immediate value. CHI began by developing an online telephone directory, because it was easy to use and benefited a large number of users.
Avoid Scattershot Development If you allow different groups to create their own intranet sites or pages without coordination or oversight, you may soon find your organization mired in information chaos.
If You Build It, They May Not Come The toughest part of getting your money's worth from an intranet is in motivating employees to actually use it. "To be successful, an organization must actively work at changing expectations and culture," says Paulson.
Create a Realistic Budget Much of an intranet's appeal lies in its low cost of implementation. Even so, you should not implement one without first establishing a realistic budget that includes the costs of staffing it and creating and maintaining its content.
Go See an Intranet in Action "Healthcare systems often create their own intranets without ever having seen one," says Paulson. "It's better to visit a system or hospital that already has an intranet and watch it in action."
When they are successfully implemented, healthcare intranets make better information available to more people at a lower cost. An intranet's value does not come from its technology. It comes from leaders' readiness to provide employees with a new tool and encourage them to improve the way work is done.
Contact Tom Lawry at 4628 175 Ave., SE, Bellevue, WA 98006; phone: 425-643-7117; fax: 206-643-0302.
MORE ABOUT INTRANETS
The following online resources provide information about the planning necessary for a high-value intranet.
- Developing Your Intranet Strategy: CIO magazine developed this presentation for nontechnical audiences. It gives a good overview of the planning process and is "down-loadable" for group use.
- The Complete Intranet Resource: This is a well-organized site containing explanatory articles and white papers, as well as an active discussion group.
Copyright © 1999 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
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