Introduction The word e-business is used quite frequently today but what exactly is e-business? According to Wikipedia. com, electronic business refers to any information system or applications that empower business processes. This is accomplished most often with web technologies. E-business can include internal business systems such as, customer relationship management and employee information portals; enterprise communication and collaboration such as e-mail; and electronic commerce such as online transaction processing. E-business can also have different kinds of users. Examples include all users of the Internet, only employees on the intranet, or a specified group of users of an extranet.
Abilities of E-Business The Internet has created both opportunities and threats that all companies will need to confront to remain viable businesses in the new economy. According to Joslyn, "changes in consumer attitudes have been fueled by the increasing access and availability of information, as a result of the Internet." In healthcare, informed consumers are both better enabled and are demanding to be more involved with decision making that involves their health or that of a loved ones (Joslyn, 2001). To respond to consumer needs, healthcare providers must overcome uncertainty and recognize the disadvantages of maintaining the status quo. According to a study by Andersen, e-business could help eliminate the two to seven percent providers overpay medical and surgical suppliers, increase the number of transactions completed using e-commerce, reduce manual processing and rework, and the real-time visibility of transactions will reduce response time. In the healthcare industry most of the e-business uses by providers have been aimed at replacing administrative functions previously performed by telephone or postal mail. Examples of this are, answering patient questions, performing follow up to previous office visits, providing test results, scheduling appointments, and requesting prescription refills.
Group Health Cooperative HMO based in Madison, Wisconsin launched a progressive e-business application in October of 2003 called MyChart. MyChart allows personalized, secure, online access to portions of the patient's medical record and insurance information. According to Epic, creators of My Chart, this system gives organizations a competitive edge by helping create a lasting bond with patients via the Web. It's more than a health portal that links users to static information or an online diary that requires patients to enter their own medical information. My Chart is a shared health system that provides patients with secure, controlled access to portions of the same electronic medical record that providers use. In addition, patients can use My Chart day or night to schedule or cancel appointments, pay bills, request medication refills, and ask for referrals (web).
Having this self service functionality provides easy access for patients and also avoids workflow interruptions for the healthcare staff. While e-business applications in healthcare can reduce administrative functions and streamline paperwork, there are very few e-business functions that generate revenue. However, there are a number of organizations in the process of developing web sites/Internet applications that can document new revenue sources. Telemedicine is one of those revenue sources. Although it is possible to practice some forms of medicine via web-enabled telemedicine, questions still plague its growth, such as, who will reimburse, is the provider practicing medicine across state lines, and is it legal to prescribe through the Internet across state lines (web). The use of e-business in healthcare is catching on, but not changing how health care is provided.
Providing health care will always need to be done in a 'brick' rather than 'click' environment. Where e-business really provides its efficiencies is in the administrative functions. Providing fast, efficient service to the patient / customer will be the greatest benefit to a health care organization in the near term. Customers of E-business Health care organizations must realize that not all patients can or will adopt Internet-based communications and e-business applications. A segment of health care customers will not have access to the Internet. There will also be a segment of customers that do not have the skills or the confidence in using the computer to complete transactions that can be handled by using the telephone.
Use of patient to provider e-business tools will be most widely used by patients that are adept at using the PC and the Web. This age group will find accessing their medical record, scheduling appointments, and requesting refills to much more convenient than having to use the telephone. For the health care organization, replying to Internet based inquiries during the day, when it is most convenient, will have its benefits. Being able to pace the workload between web requests, telephone requests, and face to face contact will lead to a more efficient use of employee time. For each web request there is one less face to face or telephone contact. Predictions of Success According to Don Tapscott, chairman of the Alliance for Converging Technologies, "Healthcare organizations need to change their business models in order to leverage the power of the Internet as digital healthcare becomes a reality.
There is no business that is more important or will be more affected by the new technology than healthcare." The Internet will not replace healthcare providers but it will change and enhance communication channels between patients and providers (web). While the use of web enabled technology to enhance patient provider communication is relatively new there are reasons for its slow growth. There are key economic deterrents that stop physicians from using the Internet. These include the related time costs of learning and using new systems, as well as the financial risk of investing in a wrong or outdated technology (Pastore, 2000). A study based on interviews with more than 1, 200 practicing physicians in the U. S.
found that more than 50 percent of physicians used the Internet daily, but only 20 percent felt it is essential to their professional practice. Without the support of the physician, the growth of Internet technologies in healthcare will continue to grow at a slower pace than other industries. Conclusion E-business in the health care industry is growing. The best e-business solutions in health care seek to emphasize and enhance the patient-provider relationship. Putting the customer first is a good business strategy for any industry and must not be forgotten when venturing into e-business solutions. Providing opportunities for patient / customers to increase their satisfaction and loyalty will only benefit the healthcare industry.
References E-business Definition. Retrieved from the World Wide Web October 20, 2003 at web > Healthcare Companies Must Embrace E-Business to Survive Next Decade. Retrieved from the World Wide Web October 20, 2003 at web > Healthcare Intelligence Network. Retrieved from the World Wide Web October 20, 2003 at web > Joslyn, J. Scott. (2001).
Healthcare E-Commerce: Connecting with Patients. Journal of Healthcare Information Management, p 82. Retrieved from the World Wide Web October 20, 2003 at web > MyChart - Shared Medical Record for Patients. Retrieved from the World Wide Web October 20, 2003 at web > Pastore, Michael. (2000).
Doctors Waiting for Clinical Uses of Internet. Cyber Atlas. Retrieved from the World Wide Web October 20, 2003 at web.