BY: THOMAS C. LAWRY
Mr. Lawry is president, Verus, Bellevue, WA.
As consumer demand for online health services grows, many hospitals are dropping their "first-generation" websites and replacing them with sites that give consumers access to more complete health information. Holy Cross Health (HCH), Silver Spring, MD, is one such hospital.
What HCH wanted was a site that would not only give consumers information but would also let them interact usefully with the hospital. Located just outside Washington, DC, HCH serves a diverse population, residents of some of the area's most affluent neighborhoods and some of the poorest as well.
HCH launched its original website in 1997. "We saw the Web as an emerging opportunity and created our first site to provide the hospital with a general presence," says David Simpkins, HCH's vice president for marketing. "It provided basic information but served no strategic purpose. As the dynamics of the Web changed, we realized that we were missing an opportunity to extend our mission and reach into the community. We also recognized that making a website strategic meant starting from scratch rather than reworking the old site."
Planning before Programming
HCH's marketing department led the creation of the new site. Planning for it began a year before the actual launch. "The first thing we did was form a Web steering committee," says Simpkins. "The committee, which included members of the hospital's key departments, was asked to determine the new site's goals and a strategy for reaching them. In the end, the committee decided that the site should support HCH's five key service lines: maternity care, cancer therapy, women's health care, and senior services."
Having done that, the committee hired a Web development firm to create the site and a vendor to equip it with a full range of content. "Our goal at HCH is to create and sustain lifelong relationships," says Simpkins. "Great health content is important if you want to attract people to a site. We concluded that buying content from a vendor was more cost effective than trying to develop our own."
This was made easier and less expensive by HCH's parent system, Trinity Health, Novi, MI. Trinity, which had researched various Web vendors, selected one to work with its member hospitals, enabling them to license site content at a discount.
The New Website
The new site — www.holycrosshealth.org
was implemented in January. When visiting it, one immediately notes the focus
on HCH's five key service areas. Each area is prominently listed on, and
easily accessible from, the home page. Indeed, a special feature brings one
to a different key area each time one returns to the home page.
The site makes effective use of its prepackaged health content, which is well integrated and allows users to move easily from general information concerning a particular medical condition to specific information about the services HCH provides for that condition.
Actually, the site has two faces. Holycrosshealth.org greets the user with
information about the hospital, physicians, health content, and other hospital-specific
content. A variation of the site, www.healthyside.com, focuses more specifically
on health content.
The site's two faces enable HCH to meet both its outreach and marketing objectives. Through the site primarily focused on content, the hospital has formed online partnerships with other local organizations, including a newspaper. HCH provides online health content for the newspaper's older readers; indeed, HCH's vice president for senior care serves as the paper's editor for online services. In using such information, the paper helps promote both the site and HCH.
By licensing and promoting healthyside.com, the hospital has integrated its Web effort with more traditional marketing. For example, the hospital calls its quarterly health information publication Healthyside. Reports from focus groups showed that Healthyside has strong brand recognition and is well regarded in the community.
Since the new site was launched, overall use has increased by 30 percent. In the future, Simpkins says, the hospital plans to integrate its telephone call-in line with the site and to add other interactive features.
Tips on Starting a Similar Site
To those planning a similar, second-generation website, Simpkins offers some advice.
Develop a Strategic Web Plan Every great website is based on a plan
that spells out, first, what the planners hope to accomplish with the site,
and, second, how they intend to develop it. Make sure your plan is linked to
the objectives envisioned in your hospital's strategic plan. A good plan
will go beyond the site's launch, including recommendations for its maintenance
and future use.
Involve the Right People in the Project Cast a wide net when forming
a team to plan and develop your Web services. Although information services
specialists are necessary, recruit nontechnical leaders as well. Select one
of your organization's top leaders to make sure that your efforts will
be strategic and get the support they need.
Look for Experience When Selecting Vendors In both developing the site
and providing content, choose vendors who have solid track records — and
experience in working with health care organizations. (Simpkins initially considered
engaging several vendors who later went out of business.) Ask for references
from organizations similar to your own.
Focus on Building Your Own Brand Make sure that all your new site's
elements — and especially its main design elements — are fashioned to
match your organization's branding and identity standards.
Contact Tom Lawry at 4628
175 Ave., SE, Bellevue, WA 98006; phone 425-643-7117; fax: 206-643-0302.
Copyright © 2001 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.