Firm Sees Potential in On-Line Services for Health Care Industry

Article excerpt

NEW YORK -- ConnectedHealth.Net wants to be the America Online Inc. of the health care industry.

The service, created by consultants Ernst & Young LLP, aims to give health professionals a leg up on rivals. It funnels news normally found in medical journals to a personal computer, offers statistics on competing hospitals and health plans and features on- line experts on legislation, regulations and drugs.

This and other Internet-based technology could help health care providers cut costs. Many managed-care companies saw lower earnings last year as their expenses rose and competition kept them from raising prices. "The HMOs will profit," said Patrick Keane, an analyst at Jupiter Communications. "They can provide a spectrum of information on-line without red tape." Spending on the Internet represents about $15 billion of the health care industry's $1 trillion in sales, according to Jupiter. That's expected to rise as health care companies, which have been slow to go on-line, find a cyberspace presence makes it easier to answer routine questions and streamline recording-keeping and billing. Patients agree. Half or more of consumers with links to the Internet use it for health and medical information, and another 30 percent said they'd like to, according to a survey by FIND/SVP, a New York-based researcher. Retrieving information from their own doctor's office is what customers want most, the survey found. "Health is a reason for people to go online," analyst Keane said. "If you can log on and find out when your last visit was and how much your co-pay was, it's easier than making a thousand phone calls." While many health care companies are starting to set up Web sites to promote their services, most lag in using the Internet as a business tool. "What we see now is everyone playing catch-up," said Dan Nutkis, president of ConnectedHealth.Net. Doctors themselves can be part of the problem. "Physicians' views on the Internet vary from ambivalence to active resistance," said Thomas Miller, vice president of the Emerging Technologies Research Group at FIND/SVP. Doctors are concerned that the Internet makes all health information appear equal. They also fear the lost control over patient relationships and that poor security may corrupt records. Many doctors also don't know how to use the technology and worry about the time it takes to communicate with patients by e-mail. …