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E-health awaits patients

iTbusiness Magazine, Tuesday, 28 August 2001

Australia's e-health sector has some "world-class ideas" but IT punters in the health arena need to forget about health consumers and focus on getting doctors on-side if they want to survive. According to e-health analyst John Mitchell from John Mitchell Associates, many IT providers have been wasting time and money trying to convert the masses - health consumers - to new technologies. "If you push too hard and get too far ahead of the health consumer, you'll go broke," he said. Mitchell said companies that haven't had an "over-focus" on the patient in the e-health arena have been "sensible". "Customer demand is immature ... The focus on the general practitioner's desk really started about two years ago and I think it's an important [focus] and one to monitor," he said.

Research has shown the computerisation of general practice and getting doctors comfortable with the use of technology are vital steps towards health consumer buy-in to online health projects. Research also shows many health consumers would trust health information and Web sites operated by their doctors above any other source. With medical practitioners as the fulcrum in future e-health initiatives, IT vendors and service providers should make it their priority to win them over.

Mitchell said Australia has a "small but growing" base of users that don't want to know the ins and outs of the latest technologies - such as public key infrastructure (PKI) - they just want to know what's in it for them.

Speaking at an e-health conference in Sydney on Monday, Mitchell encouraged IT product and service providers to move away from a 'project mentality' in the way they tackle health market. "Because of that we can now start talking about sustainable competitive advantages. SCAs are normally derived from an organisation's exceptional skills, assets and resources, brand name or customer base. Health organisations can develop SCAs in e-health through [skills] and by developing a strong reputation with a particular customer group," he added.

Mitchell said IT providers could also milk more value out health through better use of CRM. "CRM is at the heart of what a business can achieve. I don't think CRM as a concept has been picked up strongly in the e-health zone," he said.