Healthcare Portals: Serving all people

According to the US Census Bureau, 55 percent of American households have access to the internet. That's triple the percentage reported in 1997. I suspect the true figure is even higher since the survey is based on census information from 2003. As might be expected, the survey says people most likely to use the internet have higher incomes, more education, and are more likely to have children at home than non-users.

I've mentioned in earlier blogs about the growing use of portals in healthcare. Most progressive healthcare organizations are developing a rich web services environment for patients, community members, employees and medical staff. In so doing, these organizations are beginning to match the kinds of customer service expectations that people have with other industries like retail, financial services, banking and travel. But more than one healthcare executive has expressed concern about this trend, reminding me that in healthcare we must serve all of the people in our community; young and old, rich and poor, and of every color.

That's a valid point. And if the US Census Bureau figure is correct, then about half of our population still doesn't have access to the information and services being offered on the web by their local hospital or healthcare provider. The good news is that today it is possible to leverage the investments hospitals are making in portals by extending access to them to virtually everyone; that is, everyone who has a telephone. Microsoft recently introduced Speech Server; technology that makes it possible to voice enable web services. Using an ordinary telephone or cell phone, users can access information and perform transactions. Common uses may include appointment scheduling, finding a new physician, participating in surveys, coordinating benefits, accessing lab reports, paying bills and doing other kinds of transactions. Such a solution may also be used to extend information and services to busy clinicians who may carry a cell phone, but spend little time in front of a computer.

This is nothing but good news for healthcare organizations chartered to serve all people. It's even better news that Microsoft Speech Server technology is affordable, even for small hospitals. 

Bill Crounse, MD, Global Healthcare Industry Manager, Microsoft Healthcare and Life Sciences