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Me, Myself, and I-health


Me, Myself, and I-healthKathy Kincade, EditorWhen it comes to healthcare, the Internet seems to be suffering from a split personality. Is it a communications backbone or a consumer destination? Like many things in life, it’s a little of

Me, Myself, and I-healthKathy Kincade, Editor

When it comes to healthcare, the Internet seems to be suffering from a split personality. Is it a communications backbone or a consumer destination?

Like many things in life, it’s a little of both. But if e-health as an industry—let alone a mechanism for improved patient-care delivery—is going to survive, vendors are going to have to do a better job of convincing their customers that the Internet is NOT the World Wide Web, and vice versa.

Why is this important? Because, despite the fact that more and more business transactions are moving onto the Web, healthcare is a very different kind of business. Why consumers are more comfortable revealing their VISA card numbers to an anonymous Webmaster at Amazon.com than their weight or blood pressure to their doctors via a secured site is beyond me, but it likely says more about priorities in American culture than anything else. The problem is, unless you can begin to change consumer perception of the Internet as little more than an online shopping mall—an end point rather than a means to an end—getting them to adopt the notion of Internet-based healthcare is going to be a tough sell.

Even so, there is a sense of inevitableness to our migration to the Internet. As a backbone, it just has too many good things to offer, from low-cost data transmission to broad-based interoperability (not to mention all that free stuff). In fact, it was that notion—that the Internet is like some runaway locomotive that will help us in spite of ourselves—that prompted the stock market/dot-com frenzy we seem to be emerging from these days.

I don’t like to see any company go under, but I am not surprised that so many of the e-health companies that took Wall Street by storm last year are struggling. What were they selling, really, except a dream? Superb speculation? A sense of power for those who believed, and impending doom for those who didn’t? How many times did you kick yourself for not jumping on the bandwagon as you watched the Dow-Jones soar to record heights earlier this year? (Or maybe that was just me.)

But now the shakeout has begun. Executives are bailing, analysts are downgrading, and shareholders are suing. And as with most things, there is a good side to this and a not-so-good side. Those companies with legitimate business models and products and services will survive, and those who are selling vaporware and snake oil won’t. The survivors will mostly be established vendors who have added e-health and ASP components to their businesses, and they likely will be the bigger winners—for the time being, anyway.

But again, there is an element of inevitability to all of this. Once the dot-coms figure out how to attract both patients and providers to their sites, keep them coming back, and turn a profit in the process, e-health—and all those it touches—will have found the pot of gold at the end of the Internet rainbow. In the meantime, we can only speculate.

Comments/questions: kkincade@mfi.com

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