Small Hospital, Big Website – Company Business and Marketing
With the right planning and development of in-house Web-authoring skills, a community hospital’s website can make a big local impact.
Every day, hospitals realize that having a top-flight interactive website can improve patient relations and reduce unnecessary incoming phone calls by providing complete online information for prospective patients. But the path from realization to reality can be challenging.
With 118 beds and 950 employees, Medina General Hospital (MGH) is the largest of three hospitals in Medina County, OH. In 1997, the hospital launched a basic website, mostly to capture the domain name and to subsequently avoid living with a permanent “under construction” sign. In-house we created a static site including general information about the hospital, important phone numbers, e-mail, directions to the hospital and descriptions of a few hospital services.
The site attracted moderate traffic, provided basic information and even generated a few patient referrals. But as a small community hospital with ambitious marketing and community relations plans, we knew we needed an attractive, expanded and interactive site.
In the Beginning
We created a 10-member Web committee with representatives from key departments including MIS, public relations, administration, education, foundation, human resources, medical staff and volunteer services to tackle initial issues: Gathering specs from site development companies; determining how the site would be funded; setting realistic objectives for the growth and development of content; developing a flow chart of how the site would operate.
With website funding from the hospital’s volunteer Gift Gallery, the Web committee began to identify potential vendors, focusing on these criteria: database programming capabilities, knowledge of the medical arena; manpower–24/7 service and long-term maintenance; professional and high-tech design capability; cost and location.
We culled the original list of 18 vendors down to four and heard presentations from each. We whittled the four down to two finalists and asked each to develop a first- and second-level design of what the hospital’s website might look like. In December 1998, the committee selected Kelltech of Independence, OH, as the vendor.
Hold the Line on Costs
In March 2000, Kelltech was acquired by Utah-based Park City Solutions (PCS), a company that provides integrated information technology and Web-enabled solutions to healthcare clients. In particular, the PCS/iServices Group is a Web content management and integration solutions provider. Their emPOWERnet technology provides an application framework for the development of Web-based solutions to extend and integrate an organization’s Web presence. The technology empowers employees to manage and update content of their Internet site or intranet, and also provides a framework that allows the organization to manage its online content and integrate with disparate systems.
MGH was able to contain costs by preparing text and gathering photos for the site in-house and forwarding these to the vendor along with our flow chart, which PCS followed in developing our site. Two months later the vendor returned design and programming of the site to MGH and we were ready to proceed with an arduous, but necessary, final internal review.
In May 2000, the new MGH site was ready to go. We first introduced it internally, making sure that every employee, even those without computers, could view and explore it. Subsequently we undertook an extensive public relations campaign to acquaint our local community with the website, using news releases, radio spots and advertising in newspaper, movie theaters and on billboards.
A year later, we feel the website is meeting the objectives of the various stakeholders. For example, Human Resource uses the website as a recruitment tool, with a list of available positions and instructions for applying online.
We have posted the hospital’s history, facilities and accreditations on the site. We have provided a comprehensive services section describing preventive, diagnostic, medical/surgical, therapeutic, emergency, pediatric and obstetric services. We also have an easily searchable physician directory, a continually changing calendar of educational and community events at the hospital and an MGH newsroom for the media.
We maintain our volunteer application online, along with an online donation capability for the MGH Foundation as well as e-commerce capabilities, so families can quickly send gifts to patients via our gift shop. Finally, we offer a virtual tour of our birthing center.
Although the public relations department serves as Webmaster, representatives from stakeholder departments throughout the hospital have a Web-authoring capability, having been trained by Park City during a full-day instructional session.
The site also allowed MGH to launch a cyber nursery, which is the site’s most visited page. Via the Internet, the nursery allows families and friends to get a firsthand view of new babies born at the MGH Family Birthing Center and provides a link to our e-commerce site so cyber-visitors can send gifts to the new parents. In less than an hour, we trained five obstetrics staff members to upload digital images of new babies to the website themselves.
emPOWERnet tools include a Web traffic report so we can track the number of visitors to the site, learn what browsers and search engines they use and which hospital information interests them most. More than 21,000 people visit the MGH site every month. The majority of visitors are from the U.S., but we have attracted Web visitors from as far away as Japan, Saudi Arabia and Singapore.
Most recently we added an interactive feature, “For Fun,” that allows Web visitors to test their healthcare knowledge by linking to quizzes at other health sites while remaining nested in ours. We foresee a future that includes expanding the website to include online bill payment and appointment scheduling. Where our website is concerned, we hope that’s only the beginning.
Betsy Mikalacki is in the public relations department at Medina General Hospital, Medina, OH. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
COPYRIGHT 2001 Nelson Publishing
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