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January 2009

Editor:
Raymond D. Aller, MD
Hal Weiner

Developing a laboratory Web site despite a dearth of dollars Developing a laboratory Web site despite a dearth of dollars

Recipe for producing a top-notch laboratory Web site on a lean budget: Gather a reasonable financial commitment, a large dose of common sense, a sprinkling of shopping savvy, and a gob of elbow grease. Mix all ingredients and serve up a satisfying Web site for any size lab.

Laboratories can take an in-house, outsourced, or combination approach to creating or updating a Web site at an affordable cost. Regardless of your approach, you can control costs by starting with a simple, small site that offers a minimal amount of links or “pages” that focus on the basics, says Jim O’Neill, vice president of sales and marketing for Computer Service and Support, a Linwood, NJ-based developer of laboratory information systems and health care Web sites.

Laboratories can use off-the-shelf templates, many of which cost less than $1,000, to develop a Web site internally, says O’Neill. However, he cautions, unless you have an employee with an interest and knack for Web site design heading up the project, your site may not look professional. Common problems with amateur Web sites are the use of poor-quality images and logos and an awkward flow of text and graphics. If the site looks amateurish, it may turn away potential customers, O’Neill adds.

Another option, which typically costs in the thousands of dollars, is to outsource the project to a Web site design company. Be sure to choose a vendor that specializes in health care instead of a generalist, advises O’Neill, because the latter may have to conduct background research on appropriate medical content, graphics, and images, which could result in higher costs to you.

Contrary to popular belief, using an outside vendor doesn’t have to strain your budget, says John Pellman, president and founder of MedNet Technologies, a health care Web development firm based in Elmont, NY, that charges an average of $3,500 to create a medical Web site. “For a few bucks, let somebody who knows what they’re doing do it because the site is inevitably going to turn out much, much better than whatever you can do on your own,” he says.

Yet another option, which may combine the best of both worlds and be most cost-effective, is to tap into the technical, design, and health care experience of laboratory staff and then outsource those areas where internal expertise is lacking, says Mayo Clinic Web business manager Terry Lambert. Lambert headed the internal team that developed the Web site for Mayo Medical Laboratories, Rochester, Minn.

The in-house work should be done by someone with Web design experience or who has the skill set and interest to get up to speed quickly, he says. At a minimum, the lab should designate someone internally to act as a manager of the project and to coordinate the work of outside vendors. However, he adds, it may be worth the investment to purchase tools and programming that reduce the complexity of creating and maintaining the site yourself.

The laboratory should start its Web design project by interviewing internal and external stakeholders to determine what they think should be included. Then the lab should create a simple site from this input and add or subtract elements based on user feedback, Lambert says.

Whether using internal IT resources or a vendor, train laboratory staff to make the day-to-day updates, he advises. Use appropriate resources to create templates, such as Adobe Dreamweaver. “Adobe Contribute, which is similar to working in a word processor, can then be used to create and maintain the content by nontechnical staff,” he adds.

So what do you include on your Web site?

Every laboratory Web site should include information that is generally given over the phone, such as the lab’s main phone number, location, and hours of operation, as well as accreditation information, accepted insurance carriers, requisition or supply order forms, and instructions on how to contact the billing department, client services, and other important departments, says O’Neill.

A comprehensive Web site will also include a list of tests offered by the lab. This may be a simple list of tests by name or a detailed description of each test. “To keep the costs low, it doesn’t have to be anything fancy,” says Lambert. “There are quite a few ways of listing tests and related information that don’t require programming expertise.”

Laboratories can also keep costs down by avoiding unnecessary animation as well as pictures and graphics that are of a higher quality than needed. The key is understanding when quality is a priority, Lambert says. For example, it may be worthwhile to purchase a professional photograph of your facility for your Web site’s home page, but pictures of supplies can be taken by lab staff using a digital camera. “It’s real easy to get enthralled with glamour and glitz and neat stuff,” he adds.

Use caution when incorporating material from other sources into your Web site, advises MedNet’s Pellman. Obtain necessary permissions when using copyrighted material, such as images or animation, and credit the source of the material on the Web site if required, he says. “If you don’t properly license photography and images and content ... you run the risk of being sued for copyright infringement.”

Inexperienced Web site developers may also overlook the need for a site map or text index of what can be found on the links of a lab’s Web site. Search engines, like Google, Pellman explains, find key terms by combing through simple text rather than heavily coded graphics. So, while Web site visitors may not make much use of site maps, search engines do. “Therefore, the search engine may come to your home page and never get much beyond that, unless it’s got a site map to actually find the rest of the items that are on there,” he says.

Some Web site developers may use too many key words, Pellman adds, which will cause a search engine to skip the site, reasoning that the terms are not genuinely related to the user’s search because there are too many of them. “Too many key words, by the way, and you won’t get indexed at all.” And too few obviously won’t help you either, he says. It’s your developer’s job to find the key words that will draw search engines to your site.

Web site designers should also focus on speed, meaning that users need to be able to link to information quickly rather than waiting for pages to load, says Mayo’s Lambert. It’s best to approach internal IT staff for such technical assistance if possible, he says. “However, a vendor that specializes in business Web sites will offer state-of-the-art talent that can be tapped as needed.”

Finally, a Web site should be viewed as a device that can offer a return on investment by creating efficiencies for the lab while offering convenience to the customer, says Don Flott, an administrator for Mayo Medical Laboratories. For example, if a client goes on a lab’s Web site to find out what tests that facility offers, that’s one less phone call to the lab, he explains. Google Analytics, a free measuring tool embedded in the Mayo Web site, allows Mayo to measure the number of hits on its site and thereby gauge the usefulness of the site.

“We believe that with a low amount of money you can prove your concept,” Flott says. “If we continue to invest in this incrementally we’re going to provide higher value to our customers, and we’re going to see many internal benefits through more efficiencies.”

FDA clears Sunquest transfusion system FDA clears Sunquest transfusion system

Sunquest Information Systems has received FDA clearance for its Sunquest Transfusion Manager software application.

The transfusion management system will integrate with Sunquest’s laboratory information system and blood bank solutions. It primarily will be used at the patient bedside via a hand-held computing device or portable PC, with or without wireless communication

Roche acquires German laboratory information systems company Roche acquires German laboratory information systems company

Roche has acquired Swisslab GmbH, a Berlin, Germany-based provider of laboratory information systems. The transaction is scheduled to be completed in the first half of this year.

Roche expects Swisslab’s LIS for large laboratories, also named Swisslab, to complement its diagnostics systems for small and medium-sized laboratories.

The Swisslab LIS is installed in more than 200 university clinics, hospitals, diagnostic centers, and physician offices.

Emdeon establishes index to track efficiency of health care billing Emdeon establishes index to track efficiency of health care billing

Emdeon, a provider of health care revenue and payment cycle management solutions, has launched the Healthcare Efficiency Index to track the health care industry’s move to an electronic billing and payment system from a paper-based and phone-based system.

“Through the index, we are bringing together industry leaders from all aspects of health care to raise awareness of potential savings and create a national measure of business efficiency in the industry,” says George Lazenby, chief executive officer of Emdeon.

The Center for Health Transformation, founded by former U.S. House of Representatives speaker Newt Gingrich, will serve as an independent advisory council for the index. The council will determine the method used to gather data from payers and providers and how often to update the index.

The index initially will focus on claims submissions, eligibility verification, claims status, claims payment, and claims remittance. Future phases will include pre-authorization, pre-certification, and referrals.

Beginning in the first quarter of this year, industry stakeholders, such as hospitals, physicians, insurers, and billing companies, will be asked to voluntarily submit their electronic transaction statistics.

Emdeon has provided the initial funding for the health care index and the Web site infrastructure. It invites other companies to support the project.

Klas Enterprises announces recipients of customer satisfaction awards Klas Enterprises announces recipients of customer satisfaction awards

Siemens Healthcare’s Novius Lab laboratory information system took top honors in the LIS category of Klas Enterprises’ 2008 Best in Klas Awards, released last month. The awards are based on a survey of customer satisfaction with health information technology vendors and consultants.

Klas collected customer satisfaction data from thousands of hospitals and physician practices during a 13-month period to determine the winners of the award.

Also coming in first place in their respective categories were Paragon, from McKesson Corp., for community hospital information systems; ChartMaxx, from MedPlus, for document imaging and management systems; and Escription, from Nuance Communications, for speech-recognition systems.

Contracts

The University of Michigan Health System, Ann Arbor, has purchased SCC Soft Computer’s SoftID positive patient identification solution and Genetics Information Systems Suite, as well as the company’s modules for billing, microbiology, blood services, and blood donor services.

Wyndgate Technologies, a division of Global Med Technologies, has licensed its SafeTrace Tx transfusion management software to West Calcasieu Cameron Hospital, Sulphur, La.


Dr. Aller is director of automated disease surveillance and team lead for disaster preparedness Focus B, Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. He can be reached at raller@ph.lacounty.gov. Hal Weiner is president of Weiner Consulting Services, LLC, Florence, Ore. He can be reached at hal@weinerconsulting.com.