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April 2001
Health Care Online
By Casey Jacobus
Local health care providers know the Internet is a powerful new medium to help them reach consumers. And while many are redesigning and updating their Web sites, marketing directors at most local organizations say they haven’t yet maximized the power of the Internet.

“Hospitals are still in the early stages of e-commerce,” says Alan Taylor, vice president of marketing at Carolinas HealthCare System (CHS).

Although CHS has won recognition for its Web site, Taylor says. “We’re constantly looking for ways to make it more interactive.”

At Presbyterian Healthcare, which launched a revised Web site in December, marketing manager Heather McNatt says, “We’re constantly moving toward greater personalization, but we’re not there yet.

“There are more ways to build a database now than there were when we starting planning our ‘new’ site a year ago,” says McNatt. “The strategy and technology are evolving constantly.”

Still, Presbyterian’s Web site looks a lot different today from when it first went online five years ago. “Back then, we just put every bit of printed collateral we had on the Web site,” says Kati Everett, director of public relations and marketing.

Gaston Memorial Hospital is revamping its two-year old site to include a virtual nursery where grandparents will be able to see photos of their new grandchild. 

It is also designing Web sites to provide sound health care information.

“More people are going to the Internet for information about their own or a family’s illness,” says Jean Waters, director of marketing. “We want to help them make good decisions.”

Providing Information

Health care providers are most interested in educating people about their services. Hospital Web sites include information about their  physicians, locations, health plans, billing and specific information about classes, special events and support groups. They also include general health information. 

“If you are new to the area, you can not only find a doctor online, you can also get directions to his office,” says Taylor. “Eventually, we hope you’ll be able to make an appointment and fill out a personal history online.”

Carolinas Medical Center offers medical recruitment online, with information about all of its residency programs. Presbyterian has also had good results recruiting potential employees online. 

“Forty to fifty percent of our job applicants come from the Web site,” says Everett. “We were averaging 14,000 user hits per month before we relaunched in December, and many of those came from human resources.”

In addition to educating people about its services, non-profit Hospice at Charlotte tells people how they can contribute — whether it’s time or money.  Its Web site, <www.hospiceatcharlotte.com>, provides information on “how you can help.”

“Many people are going to the Internet for information, and, given the nature of our services, many of them are interested in exploring what we have to offer privately,” says Cricket Weston, director of communications and marketing. “They may not be ready to make a phone call yet, but they can find out more about us online.”

About 80 to 90 percent of the information on the Hospice site is static or permanent. Items like the mission statement, services, eligibility criteria, team members, frequently asked questions, and credentials don’t change often. But information on special events and bereavement support groups does need to be updated frequently.

Someday, Weston hopes the Web site will offer donors the opportunity to make contributions online.

Researching answers

Librarians at the Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County (PLCMC) find their most frequently asked questions are about careers, business and health concerns. Since they already had a Web site devoted to business matters, they put together one on health, which debuted last fall.

“The Web site took a year to put together,” says Diana Sachs, an information specialist with PLCMC. There are eight categories: general health information, health care providers, health insurance, medical research, staying healthy, mental health, complementary and alternative medicine, and Piedmont resources. 

“We’re trying to help people find information, particularly on a local level,” says Sachs. “There’s so much information out there, but much of it is misinformation or attempts to sell you something. We’ll do the weeding out for you and select only the good information.”

Looking ahead

As a marketing tool, Web sites are starting to make an impact on more traditional types of advertising for health care providers. Carolinas HealthCare now publishes the Carolinas Health Magazine solely online. At Presbyterian, Everett anticipates reducing both the size and the number of print ads. Ultimately, she says the Web site will reduce advertising costs.  

Health Care Information On the Web

Local Hospitals

Carolinas Healthcare System

Gaston Memorial

Northeast Medical

Piedmont Healthcare System

Presbyterian Healthcare

Local Healthcare Professionals

NC Board of Nursing

Local Alternative Living Arrangements

Mecklenburg Health Care Center

Hospice at Charlotte

Local Support Groups and Associations

Alcoholics Anonymous

SupportWorks

Carolina Piedmont Chapter of Alzheimer’s Association

Local Health Information

American Red Cross, Greater Carolinas Chapter

Building a Healthy North Carolina

Charlotte Observer’s Health

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, Child Nutrition Services

Community Health Services

HealthLink Plus

Mecklenburg County Health Department

Assisted Living Facilities

Southminster

Sunrise Assisted Living

Resources for Senior Living

Casey Jacobus is a Lake Norman-based freelance writer.
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