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Should Hospital Websites be Information Hubs for Healthcare Consumers?

by cjones on August 2, 2010

in Healthcare

Healthcare Information on the Internet

James Chase posted an article at Medical Marketing & Media on June 9, 2010 that says patients are not getting Internet information guidance from their doctors so big pharma should assume this role.

I wonder if this m ight be an opportunity for hospitals to become more of an information hub for their patients.   I suspect that many doctors don’t have recommendations because either they don’t have time to spend online to be able to make recommendations or don’t see the value. The conclusion in the referenced article suggests that perhaps pharmaceutical companies should step up to fill the void.

I tend to think this is an opportunity for hospitals not pharmaceutical companies because I would think hospitals rank higher on the “trust meter” than “big pharma”. With all of the advertising dollars, professional services payments to doctors and the high cost of drugs and recent drug recall actions, do healthcare consumers put their trust in pharmaceutical companies?

I found two sources of information on this but suspect there are more.

Public Perception of US Pharmaceutical Industry at All Time Low is from 2005 and reports…Less than 13% of US consumers believe information provided by pharmaceutical companies is more trustworthy than healthcare information provided by other organizations, according to new research. The research also found that public opinion has the potential to negatively impact individual pharmaceutical firms far more dramatically than increased federal regulations.

Consumers who view information provided by pharmaceutical companies with suspicion may be less likely to approach a physician for treatment, preferring instead to remain untreated or rely on over-the-counter and herbal remedies. In addition, consumers who do seek medical help may be less likely to fill or refill a prescription.

I also found another post from the Journal of Internet Medical Research entitled Trusted Online Sources of Health Information: Differences in Demographics, Health Beliefs, and Health-Information Orientation published in 2003 that did not include pharmaceutical companies but did include the Federal Government. Here are their conclusions:

The results suggest systematic differences in the consumer segment based on the different sources of health information trusted by the consumer. While certain sources such as the local hospital and the health insurance company might serve as credible sources of health information for the lower socioeconomic and less health-oriented consumer segment, sources such as medical universities and federal Web sites might serve as trustworthy sources for the higher socioeconomic and more health-oriented groups.

Information from 2003 and 2005 seems antiquated given the speed of things in today’s world and I would think that if a survey were conducted today the results might be different. Compared to five years ago many more hospitals now have a presence on the Internet, the Federal Government has taken an aggressive role in healthcare that most consumers don’t seem to want and the number of healthcare websites and sites with mis-information has exploded.

Perhaps the shear growth of information which is a key part of Mr. Chase’s article and the fact that more hospitals are on the web today versus 5 years ago indicates now may be the time for hospitals to position themselves as information hubs not only for their specialties but as a source of trusted links to healthcare information that consumers can access with confidence. In essence, hospitals become a filter of trusted information.

To better understand what different hospitals are doing today I checked about 20 different sites and found a trend (not scientific but potentially valid). Very large teaching hospitals and those with significant reputations tend to provide much more information including medical libraries, videos and links than smaller hospitals did.  Most of the smaller hospitals tended to make their site more about themselves. Here is where I see the opportunity. Smaller hospitals should focus their Internet efforts on becoming information hubs for their community by providing information on trusted resources, videos and relevant links in addition to information about themselves. By taking this approach the hospital becomes a “trusted resource” rather than a local hospital.

While it’s true that larger medical facilities have more staff I don’t think it would take that much for a small group of professionals within each hospital to periodically review a few websites and determine if their content was trustworthy and request the webmaster post the links for the community. In addition, there should be an ongoing effort by Marketing to produce content via blog articles, interviews and videos that help educate both patients and healthcare consumers. This enables the hospital to advertise without advertising as content marketing is the vehicle for Internet credibility.

What do you think? Here’s Mr. Chase’s article…

Patients look to docs for web suggestions — but most don’t get them

Consumers want more help from their doctors in finding relevant health information on the web, but their doctors are often failing to deliver, according to new research by consumer engagement specialist Kyp and Opinion Research Corporation.

According to the study, while 76% of respondents search the internet for health information, only 22% use the web as their first port of call after they suspect a health problem – seemingly because of the confusing number of online sources.

Even in the 18-34 demographic, more than half (55%) report that “there is just too much choice” and that they “simply don’t know where to turn for the best advice.”

But while one in two respondents overall (49%) considers their healthcare provider to be the primary influencer in choosing which sites to visit, just one in four (25%) reports receiving recommendations from their doctor – which represents an opportunity for pharma marketers to intervene.

“Patients would like to use the web to research health issues, but are being put off by the huge number of different and competing websites they have to choose from,” said Kyp CEO Nicholas Miller. “The healthcare industry should support physicians in connecting patients with online resources that help them understand and manage their conditions. The market is there and it is asking for direction.”

The study represents the findings of a telephone survey conducted among a national probability sample of 1,008 adults, comprising 507 men and 501 women.

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