Physicians’ Web Sites, eHealth Plans Mark Future of Healthcare

Medical doctor Web sites are the crucial catalyst to unlocking the $9 billion dollar market in health transactions by 2005, according to Jupiter Research.

Unlike commercial health sites, which consumers do not trust for health management activities, Jupiter analysts believe physician Web sites can provide a venue for delivering trusted content as well as interactive physician-patient capabilities, such as appointment scheduling, prescription renewal requests and secure electronic dialogue. Right now, commercial sites may be getting traffic because there are no alternatives.

“Despite the enormous potential of the Internet to transform healthcare, to date, this promise has largely gone unrealized. Although commercial health sites are winning in the Media Metrix online health rankings, this is really a hollow victory — they are for all intents and purposes the only game in town right now,” said Claudine Singer, Jupiter senior analyst and research director. “Medical doctor Web sites will be the catalysts for furthering digital adoption in the online health sector. They will drive physicians to interact with patients, forcing integration into their professional workflow, and will also provide a platform for patients to use the Internet for meaningful health activities.”

A Jupiter Consumer Survey found that 63 percent of consumers would switch to a doctor with a Web site that offered credible content, appointment scheduling capabilities, or secure communication channels. According to Cozint Interactive, 40 percent of physicians have a Web presence, but their sites lack the functional depth to serve consumer needs today.

Cozint also found that nearly half of physicians express interest in conducting email dialogue with patients, despite the risks of potential liability and the potential for plenty of unreimbursable activity. Jupiter expects this number to grow as more doctors find that consumers are concerned with using medical doctor Web sites primarily to obtain trusted information and schedule appointments, rather than interact directly with doctors.

Although online health-related transactions only made up only 1 percent of all electronic health transactions in 2000, Jupiter predicts the figure will reach 29 percent by 2005. Jupiter expects the online component of transactions will soar, particularly after 2003 when the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) takes effect.

When accessing and using health information online, consumers said they are most frustrated with irrelevant hits (46 percent) and content credibility (36 percent). More than 40 percent of consumers surveyed are so concerned with their privacy that they would not submit personal information at a commercial site. According to Jupiter, this means that commercial sites will never provide a platform for health management and are likely to be viewed as little more than an electronic library housing suspect information.

Initially, Jupiter expects consumers will value the medical doctor Web site for data and convenience: make appointment requests (51 percent of consumers), request prescription refills or renewal (48 percent) and see lab results (38 percent). As consumers become more involved in leveraging their medical doctor Web site for health management, however, disease management becomes a more valuable online opportunity: 34 percent of online consumers with a chronic condition say they are willing to engage in such a management program on their physician’s site.

“There is an untapped opportunity for technology companies to revolutionize the online health industry by providing centralized solutions to power individual ‘electronic shingles,’ or front-ends of physician Web sites,” Singer said. “While winners will be few and far between, those who act fast and act now are well positioned to reach back deeply into the digital health value chain.”

Singer also believes that medical doctor Web sites bring tremendous benefits to all major healthcare players, such as pharmaceutical companies and health medical organizations (HMOs), which will benefit from better drug compliance and disease management possibilities.

The Internet may also revolutionize health insurance, according to a report by Forrester Research, which predicts that emerging eHealth plans will unleash a trend of consumerism in the medical market in 2001, increasing employee accountability and taking share and profits from HMOs.

Forrester said that skyrocketing premiums are forcing employers and consumers to look for an alternative to conventional insurance, and eHealth plans, which give the consumer the tools to choose personalized benefits, the course of care that should be sought, and which provider to consult, should be one such alternative.

“It will give consumers the means to take greater control of personal health decisions,” said Forrester senior analyst Bradford Holmes. “It can provide different options with economic consequences when normally there aren’t a lot of choices.”

With multiple eHealth plan introductions in 2001 and 24 percent of employers likely to offer employees an eHealth plan by 2002, consumers will increasingly have an eHealth plan choice. According to Forrester, products and markets will evolve in three phases over the next five years: the era of choice, the era of motive, and the era of markets. In the era of choice (2001 to 2002), eHealth plans will emphasize personalized benefits options at enrollment because offering more choice is easy and incremental. Consumers will be able to adjust their copayments or increase their deductible to decrease their monthly contribution. In the era of motive (2003 to 2004), eHealth plans will focus on incorporating and employing a medical spending account and providing decision support for consumers’ use of healthcare services. In the era of markets (2005 and after), providers will compete for patients, and eHealth plans will have the price and quality transparency they need to populate their eMarketplaces of providers.

“eHealth plans are rolling out in force, and with employers’ and consumers’ interests piqued, insurers must respond or fall behind,” Holmes said. “They need to react defensively to the threat that start-up eHealth plans will attract younger members, and adjust for expected adverse selection by increasing pricing to account for the older members who remain in their plan. Then, they must proactively chart their eHealth plan strategies, based on a review of their skills and assets.”

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