Consultants see the ‘Net’ enhancing their role

Firms can become wellness clearing houses

Wellness professionals have come to view the Internet and the World Wide Web as vast new resources of information — and with good reason. They offer direct access to many of the major wellness and health promotion information banks in the world.

But "surfing the Web" can still take a lot of time. You’ve got to search out your main topic first, then "drill down" until you find what you really want.

Wellness consulting firms are hoping to make your job easier — while at the same time enhancing their role as a wellness resource. By surfing the Web for you, they are positioning themselves to be ‘one-stop-shops’ for Internet-based wellness information.

One clear advantage for both consultants and their clients is that information can be found on the Internet long before it is ever seen in print. "We use the Internet to locate things that are real current and that we may not have yet," explains Elaine Frank, MEd, RD, vice president of the American Institute for Preventive Medicine in Farmington Hills, MI.

"Or you can find information in a professional journal that you can download or even just print out."

Frank says the Internet provides her company with a vehicle to respond almost instantly to client requests about new, "hot" topics. "Often a client call or request will prompt our search," she explains. "The Internet gives us a way to be on top of things that right now may only exist in some government bulletin."

John Carlson, director of business development for The Benfield Group, a St. Louis-based health care consulting firm, notes that getting the information is just the beginning.

His company is currently building a site on the World Wide Web, planned to open in three to six months. "Whatever we find on the Internet, we will be adding our own information to it," he explains. "Even more so, we will interpret what we find based on our clients’ needs and then put the implications on our Web site so that they can access it."

Wellness consultants know their clients could find the information they seek on the Internet themselves. (See the story on First Chicago’s Intranet, p. 33.) What they’re banking on is that wellness professionals will appreciate the time savings and that ‘extra something’ the consultants bring to the search.

"We go to the regular search engines," admits Frank. "It’s not that the client isn’t on the Internet, but we want to be a good helper who takes care of the client. What’s more, we want to be the authority — if the client asks a question and we don’t have the answer, we want to get it."

And the client will get it much more quickly, says Chuck Reynolds, MS, a senior consultant at The Benfield Group. "We’ll save them time, that’s for sure," he asserts. "There are probably two or three people here at any one time doing research on the Internet. And they’re usually looking up information about demand and disease management, the kind of thing you normally comb through periodicals for." Reynolds says his company will often access the Web sites of "some of the more renowned medical institutions." "They will put ‘white papers’ on line that are relevant to their particular area of expertise, such as cancer or heart disease," he explains.

The Benfield Group’s own ability to find information quickly was just enhanced with the recent addition of a "key" (direct Internet access) line. "Before, even our consultants had to go to the library to access the Internet," Reynolds says.

"We used to have to get on the telephone to government agencies and universities and try to get in touch with a researcher," adds Frank. "We spent a lot more time on the information hunt than we do today."

The danger, she warns, is that the Internet also has lots of ‘garbage’ on it, and that’s where consultants come in. "We need to be knowledgeable of which sources to use, which ones are most reliable — that’s the beauty and the curse of the Internet," she observes.

Wellness consultants recognize the Internet also offers them an opportunity to enhance their business. "We use it as a place to sell products," says Frank. "We have put some of our wellness publications in html (hypertext markup language — the language of the Web) so clients could get them off our Web page ("(See list of Web sites, p. 34.)

Reynolds says The Benfield Group also is helping selected clients choose Web site developers and participating in the planning process that will ultimately determine the contents of the site. "It’s a tough challenge," he admits. "Everyone wants to be on the Web, but everything changes so fast. Also, you’re never sure just how much people will access it."

The bottom line, says Carlson, is that having Internet access will enable his company to nurture current client relationships. "Being able to provide clients with more information on health promotion will certainly aid in our business development," he predicts.

[Editor’s Note: For more information on the Internet and wellness, contact: Elaine Frank, The American Institute for Preventive Medicine, 30445 Northwestern Highway, Suite 350, Farmington Hills, MI 48334. Telephone: (810) 539-1800. Fax: (810) 539-1808.]