It's a camera, a radio, a video game and, sometimes, it's a phone. For a growing number of Americans, smart phones are also the predominant way they access the Web, and hospitals wanting to maintain a connnection with this on-the-go consumer population are taking their Web strategies mobile.
According to a May survey from the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project, the number of smart phone users surfing the Web jumped 13 percent—from 25 to 38 percent—between April 2009 and May 2010. To reach this population, Southern Regional Medical Center, Riverdale, Ga., launched a mobile-friendly website—reportedly the first by a health system in the state—last spring.
Smart phone users searching for www.southernregional.org are automatically redirected to the mobile-specific site. Once there, patients can find a description of the hospital, office locations, directions and phone numbers. The most unique feature is a searchable physician directory, says Marcus Gordon, who was the strategic marketing manager for the 331-bed hospital when the site went live.
For HIPAA and other security reasons, Southern Regional officials limited the mobile website to these informational features. The site does not capture any personal identification information, such as a patient's e-mail address.
"Mobile sites are part of the way the digital platform is trending in health care," says Gordon, who is now the marketing and public relations director for the Atlanta Medical Center. "Through this site, we reduced the number of touches needed to find some details about the hospital from five or more to only one or two. Doctors also like it because it's a convenient resource to pass along to patients."
Gordon says that the Atlanta Medical Center site, which was slated to go live in late December eventually may become more robust and allow patients to register for events and classes and even preregister for appointments, but that functionality is still a few years off.
Children's Hospital & Medical Center, Omaha, Neb., has a similar site that navigates from its www.childrensomaha.org.
The biggest challenge of designing Southern Regional's site was deciding what information to include, says Ben Dillon, vice president of Geonetric, the company that built both the mobile and traditional websites and monitors their activity. Hospital leaders opted for data that patients most likely would need while away from home rather than offering such services as preregistration or bill paying.
"Visits to the site have grown from a half percent of the hospital's overall Web traffic to up to 6 percent monthly," Dillon says. "Overall, the hospital sees about 28,000 unique hits each month, and the mobile site is responsible for anywhere from 1,300 to 1,600 of them."