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Healthcare Portals- An Argument,A perspective

The IT and dotcom revolution has given the people a chance to explore business opportunities that never existed in the past. And they have taken those opportunities with both hands. Among them have been those looking for opportunities in the healthcare market. The absolute increase in population argues automatically in favour of a growing market for health care and health care products. The increasing levels of literacy and eduction argue likewise. The dissemination of information through the internet makes health care as a dotcom proposition sound more than a remote business opportunity. The rest of course depends upon individual business acumen and the ability to convert a chance into an opportunity and an opportunity into a viable business.
Among the better known health care portals now up and running in India are:
  1. healthlibrary.com
  2. apollohealth.satyamonline.com
  3. 3. goodhealthyou.com
  4. 4. webhealthcenter.com
  5. 5. mdspeak.com
  6. 6. indmedica.com
  7. 7. doctoranywhere.com
  8. 8. healthcarehouse.com
  9. 9. drgill.com
  10. 10. valcare.com
    In this article the discussion is limited to content. A major discussion on revenue streams also needs to be taken up but it shall have to wait for a subsequent article.
    BroadbandingIt is evident that there is a certain broad banding on content tried by a number of these sites. Even within the healthcare niche there seems to be an attempt to offer all the information that the healthcare consumer, be a doctor or a lay person, needs. Such an approach is full of possibilities. A health care website that offers all things to all men is one starting point when one has to begin somewhere and the first web portal off the block has tremendous advantages in this respect.
    Its limitsHowever there are also drawbacks to this approach. The first is that even within the healthcare sector this approach calls for a site that offers immense amount of information in every direction at such a level as to make it the ultimate guide to the health care universe. This is clearly impossible. In the effort to offer too much to too many, a lot can get left out. Besides the knowledge base has to be re-engineered to fit the web format. Even if done successfully it can get out of hand after a certain critical size is reached. Also, ultimately a website is a place to which a consumer goes to get information and such other facilities that it offers. He is not interested in getting lost and worse, mired, in an ocean of information most of which is irrelevant to his immediate needs. It can be both irritating and off-putting. Therefore, in the healthcare sector, a horizontal portal can be both a bane and a boon. A boon because the information is likely to be available and a bane because a lot of effort may have to be expended trying to get to it.
    VerticalisationIf, on the other hand, a website were to offer in-depth information to a very select audience, in other words try to be a vortal in a vertical business it runs the risk of painting itself into a corner, appealing to just those few whom it is aimed at. This limits the market and can result quite quickly in its becoming economically unviable. After all a website’s success is measured by its popularity in terms of hits and page views. No website is up on the net without an economic aim. A fine balance between breadth and the depth of content and consumer need has therefore to be cultivated with an assiduity bordering on the fanatical. This is a task that can call for juggling skills, far superior to anything seen in the best of
    circuses.What is surprising is that so many succeed even partially at this. Not all deal with the same topics. Many ignore completely what some others lay emphasis on. Some make it clear which their primary target audience is and tailor the rest of the material around this main aim. On content much depends on your perspective and what you are looking for. It is useful therefore to look at content from different perspectives.
    A perspectiveWhen websites are aimed at doctors, for doctors matters take a perspective that is by definition self-limiting but which concentrates with success on one task. It is therefore likely to be more thorough in its approach. For instance take the website called DoctorAnywhere. This site is meant for doctors who wish to take the opinion of experts by paying a fee. The site is one approach to offer doctors expert second opinions by specialists. Considering the shortage of specialists, particularly in the non-metro areas of the country, this site has a laudable aim that deserves credit. One hopes therefore that it will be able to make a success of its efforts in the long term.
    There are possible hurdles, however. For one, no real expert offers a second opinion without personally examining a patient. Secondly, if he does he still hedges it with a lot of caveats. Which finally compels the patient to seek his own specialist instead of asking the GP to look for expertise on what is felt to be an anonymous source the internet. In India at least, patients look for medical treatment from doctors at a highly personalised level.
    Therefore while the service offered by DoctorAnywhere has its good points— it offers GPs the ability get access to specialists from anywhere in the country and it enables information at an expert opinion is diluted, perhaps fatally by anonymity and distance.
    The criterion of usefulnessOne of the ways GPS can get information on their everyday medical queries is about diseases and the drugs available to treat them, perhaps even the brands that are available. That would make prescribing that much more accurate and easier. Probably the best effort in this direction aimed at clinical physicians is from the web portal MDSPEAK.com. They have called it the Physicians’ Prescription Guide. The Guide extending more than 10,000 pages encompasses information on more than 4000 drug molecules.
    A very uncomplicated and straight means adopted, which incidentally has made the site immensely popular, is that taken by HealthLibrary.com. All it does is to produce on the web issues of a magazine on healthcare issues on a bio-monthly basis. It also has archival material stretching back some four years which makes for a rarely seen continuity on the web. All one needs is to go through each issue to get to the article one is looking for. This approach is excellent for its simplicity but has
    certain limitations. It is aimed at doctors who are expected to browse through whichever issue they think contains material on the subject they wish to read up.
    DrGill.com by contrast aims at being as extensive as possible. Virtually every conceivable healthcare concern is addressed on this portal. It is inevitable that thoroughness is bound to suffer. And the lack of focus stands out like a sore thumb. Unfortunately also, the portal sometimes gets its lines mixed up. There was a Reuters picture report about gas bursts on comets in outer space shot by the Hubble Space Telescope on the portal. How it adds to the healthcare value of the portal is not clear. Another problem that one comes across is that each page view involves separate downloading of a page which makes for long delays in reaching across hot-links.
    ExtensivenessIndmedica.com sports a certificate from the Britannica for being one of the best medical information sites on the web. It divides into 31 neat categories. Access to each of them is easy and at first glance it appears that each of those categories deals with the subject superficially. In fact under each of these categories there are hot-links to ten separate information sources including a link that offers access to some of the world’s best sources of information under that specific subject. For example, of the 31 categories if we take up just Cardiology, we get under Links the following sources: Annals of Internal Medicine, British Medical Journal, NAMA, Lancet, New England Journal of Medicine, and the American College of Cardiology. Apart from this just the reference to Cardiology has links to pages on Cyber Lectures, an Image Library, Conferences, Associations, a Doctors’ Directory, Case Discussions, a chat forum and a page for feedback. Each of these is tailored for just Cardiology. Each of the 30 other categories has similar information. A very good site meant primarily for doctors.
    Webhealthcentre by contrast is aimed at the consumer. Sporting a Britannica award, it offers articles on various health conditions for consumers, on-line consultation, stores on-line medical records for those who want such a facility and it has an electronic health store that offers books, medicines, personal healthcare products and even has an emergency medical loan scheme tie up with Birla Global Finance. This therefore appears to be the first of the sites to strt addressing the problem of revenue streams in right earnest.
    Likewise Goodhealthnyou is aimed primarily at the consumer. The site is said to be “educative (why not educational?), not prescriptive”. Good graphics, but the content is rather like reading a more sophisticated version of Women’s Era on the net. Take just these concerns: Our nitrition week special, Anger can break your heart, Silence is golden, right?, Exercise cycle, Alternative therapy (why not in plural), Managing anaemia, Shortness of breath and for good measure, Do you fall in love easily? An easy to read site, easy on the eye, modest tothe core, with much to be modest about.
    Lost OpportunityOne would wish and in fact expect ApolloHealth@Satyamonline to live up to its incredibel pedigree. It has the support of the Apollo Hospital Group and all that implies and the site is up on the web courtesy Satyam, one of India’s best known IT companies. Unfortunately it appears that the site is a cursory attempt at trying to offer instant solutions in the shape of a medicyclopedia and a net clinic. Information wise it is bereft of the faintest attempt at offering anything of value. Apollo needs to take up this site in right earnest if it is to make a credible attempt at registering any kind of presence on the web.
    Value Healthcare is another site that does not seem sure what it is aiming at or whom. For example it offers a “Practice Enhancer”. It is supposed to be a patient record with other things like a Scheduler, Networking, CME and Billing and e-mail thrown in. Fine as it goes. But it does not go. “This page cannot be displayed” - that is all you get to see. Apparently much of the content is yet to be uploaded. It should get better over time. There seems to be an attempt at making a database of surgical equipment manufacturers and suppliers with a sprinkle of articles aimed at nobody in particular. Even the News is not just Healthcare news. It is all things to all men. Clearly enough thought has not gone into the composition of content.
    To a large extent Healthcarehouse which calls itself “Your complete online health guide” tries earnestly to fulfil what is sets out to do. It offers banks, and medical services and also medical advice for medical as well as medico-legal problems. There are no bells and whistles. It is low profile site with a lot of potential since it sets out to offer information as a one-stop shop to those looking for it.
    One comes to the inescapable conclusion that, while offering informtion specifically for doctors is an arduous taks, it is not something that is difficult to grapple with. What needs to be offered is known. The knowledge base may be vast but it is documented. Therefore it is possible, perhaps with a lot of effort, but possible, to get together a compendium of information specifically to meet the needs of the medical fraternity. Many of the sites discussed seem to succeed, in varying degrees of course, but succeed nevertheless at offering what the doctor needs.
    The problem arises with the lay consumer. For a lay person a healthcare portal is a source which he goes to only when he is in need of information. It is not a source for satisfying curiosity or a source of entertainment. Most portals are not clear what the lay consumer is looking for. This is understandable, since, often enough, the consumer is often not clear himself. It is therefore necessary for portals that aim their content at consumers to first try and find out how a lay person reats to the questionof healthcare. Going toa healthcare portal is something which a consumer does only because he is concerned and needs certain specific information. But this often applies to the health conscious consumer who knows the elements of healthcare and understands the significance of some of the better known medical terms. For such consumers articles written on various disease states in layman’s language are a useful aid-something he looks forward to. MDSPEAK.com for example offers this facility. It is an extensive facility which discusses disease states at some depth, all the time keeping in mind the non-expert nature of its target audience. It tries its best to impart to a lay person a level of knowledge that he is rarely able to garner from his normal sources of information.
    However there is another kind of consuemr who is probably more often encountered. He is innocent of medical knowledge and knows at best only what he feels is happening to him. Such a consumer goes to a website in search of information armed with questions which are limited to the symptoms that he feels hehas. What, to him, would be of immense value would be a site that tells him, on the basis of his understanding of his symptoms, what they could conceivably be caused by and what treatment his doctor is likely to offer him to allevitate them. If websites that offer informtion to consumers could re-engineer their sources to come up with a compendium of symptomatology they woudl find they will be doing their consumers a great service and end up getting much more eyeball support.

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