The author believes that interactive media (the Internet and the World Wide Web) and associated applications used to access those media (portals, browsers, specialized Web-based applications) will result in a substantial, positive, and measurable impact on medical care faster than any previous information technology or communications tool. Acknowledging the dynamic environment, the author classifies “pure” digital health care companies into three business service areas: content, connectivity, and commerce. Companies offering these services are attempting to tap into a host of different markets within the health care industry including providers, payers, pharmaceutical and medical products companies, employers, distributors, and consumers. As the fastest growing medium in history, and given the unique nature of health care information and the tremendous demand for content among industry professionals and consumers, the Internet offers a more robust and targeted direct marketing opportunity than traditional media. From the medical consumer's standpoint (i.e., the patient) the author sees the Internet as performing five critical functions: (1) Disseminate information, (2) Aid informed decision making, (3) Promote health, (4) Provide a means for information exchange and support—the community concept, and (5) Increase self-care and manage demand for health services, lowering direct medical costs. The author firmly submits the Web will provide overall benefits to the health care economy as health information consumers manage their own health problems that might not directly benefit from an encounter with a health professional. Marrying the Internet to other interactive technologies, including voice recognition systems and telephone-based triage lines among others, holds the promise of reducing unnecessary medical services.
Vice President, A.G. Edwards & Sons, Inc., St. Louis, Missouri (Frank)