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10 keys to a successful e-health portal

  1. Provide interesting and meaningful content. The single most important element for an effective e-health portal is relevant and meaningful content. If the information on the site isn't interesting; if it doesn't encourage members or employees to visit a site, the employer or health plan sponsor will not be able to secure the benefits an e-health portal strategy can provide.
  2. Integrate the information with important benefit information. While people go to Internet sites to research healthcare information, as many e-health firms have discovered, content alone is not enough. The best sites today integrate meaningful educational content with pertinent health plan information and services involving claims, benefits, enrollment, provider directories, member services, and medical management programs.
  3. Provide a variety of information. A comprehensive and effective e-health portal allows health plan members to access the latest healthcare news and articles from consumer magazines and clinical journals. Award-winning e-health portals such as those offered by several Blues plans nationwide have gone a step further, providing original reporting, personalized newsletters, detailed website reviews, personal journals and more. The more varied and broad the information, the more apt the user is to stay at that site for all their healthcare information needs.
  4. Ensure the information provided is accurate and timely. With so much healthcare information available today, it is easy for consumers to become confused and misled. In addition, the rapid pace of healthcare could mean that what may have been an accepted standard yesterday is no longer the best treatment available. Clinicians who specialize, or who are board-certified in the area corresponding to a specific content area to ensure the information provided is medically accurate and timely, should review all information on an e-health portal.
  5. Personalize the portal. Another critical element for an effective e-health portal that can help to drive users to a site is personalization. For example, more than 80% of Internet users want a healthcare site that provides personalized disease management, according to a recent survey conducted by Cyber Dialogue. Personalized newsletters on pregnancy, diabetes or other conditions are a good start. To take the strategy a step further, the site can also provide more specific information such as a daily pollen count for members with asthma and discounts on related products.
  6. Give users the opportunity to interact. Realizing they have the opportunity to move beyond "generic" content, health plans are embracing the Internet for interactive communications that build more positive and personalized relationships with members. Features should include personal reminder systems, a drug database and herbal index, as well as health tools such as calculators and quizzes, ask-the-expert bulletin boards, member-to-member chat capabilities, and professionally moderated support group links. As this component becomes more familiar, site sponsors may want to consider adding additional features such as e-mailing physicians and communication with other healthcare providers such as case managers.
  7. Make the site easy to navigate. Despite its popularity, not everyone is at ease with the Web. An e-health portal must make it easy for all members to find their way around the website, which means the overall design, color schemes, templates and task bars should be both appealing to the eye and user-friendlY.
  8. Offer the latest in security and confidentiality. From a technical standpoint, there's no issue more important than protecting the identity of end users and confidentiality of personal information. Be sure that the website's technology partner provides state-of-the-art encryption and firewall security, as well as policies that guard against selling end-user data. Members will not use a site if they fear that administrators or others will be able to access personal information. Data should be gathered and communicated in the aggregate only. In addition, the program must be an opt-in allowing those who want greater personalization to access that feature but still giving those who want simply to access information that option as well.
  9. Provide opportunities for safe and secure online shopping. The original e-commerce model - consumer information sites driven by advertising - is not proving to be viable as the healthcare industry matures. The new approach involving private label and co-branded e-health portals allows health plans to preserve and own the channel for online communications to their members instead of giving away this piece of the value chain to a third party. The cost of customization can be subsidized by sharing a portion of e-commerce revenues, with the percentage of revenue sharing linked to the level of traffic a plan drives to the site.
  10. Select partners to develop the e-health portal carefully. Developing an e-health portal is a difficult proposition that often requires outside expertise and direction. Customized healthcare websites are only as good as the partnerships from which they are born. The federal Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion urges consumers to pay close attention to who's sponsoring and managing these sites, as well as their credentials and level of medical expertise. Working with a credible developer can help an organization ensure that their members will have the comfort level needed to feel secure using a site.

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