Electronic materials are new market choice

E-mail, interactive Web site specific to families

Are print newsletters that are bulk-mailed to patients obsolete? They may be, if patients have e-mail capabilities via the Internet. Electronic patient education materials are emerging as access to computers in the home or at the office increases.

In April 1997, San Francisco-based BabyCenter, a "new media" publishing company, began marketing personalized e-mail wellness newsletters to health care plans and facilities. The electronic newsletter, designed for pregnant women, provides weekly information to the subscriber based on her stage of pregnancy. Also, reminders of dates for classes and programs offered by the medical group using the newsletter service can be generated in a timely manner. There are two versions, one with graphics and one with text only. Both have links to other related information on the Web.

The health care facility provides the new media publishing company with the patient's name and due date, plus a list of upcoming classes. "With some of our clients, we are putting posters in the waiting rooms at physician offices. The posters have tear sheets people fill out with their e-mail address and due date," says Ben Wilson, MBA, MPH, director of health care at BabyCenter.

In addition to newsletters, the company provides content and interactive tools for pregnancy and baby Web sites that health care facilities can integrate into their corporate site. "A health care system with a corporate site can have a baby area which we would design and keep the content fresh, as well as help manage that site to make sure it is an engaging experience for their patients and members," says Wilson.

Staff at BabyCenter generate a lot of content because the company has a Web site of its own. News stories are created daily, feature stories weekly, and interactive tools on a regular basis. Interactive tools include an ovulation calculator, a college savings calculator, and calculator for the cost of having a child.

Distinguished by publishing background

BabyCenter's expertise is in publishing. Many staff members were once part of the editorial and design staff for Parenting magazine before the publication moved its editorial offices from San Francisco to New York. That's one major factor that distinguishes the company from Web site development firms, says Wilson.

The company's publishing expertise is what attracted Sharp Health Care in San Diego. Currently, the company is only evaluating the service because of the cost, which runs $50,000 and up annually for the Web site and $10,000 and up annually for the e-mail newsletter.

"BabyCenter is a professional publishing firm. We're experts in health care and they are experts in publishing. That makes a nice mix, very complementary," says Kelly Faley, director of Women's Market Development at Sharp Health Care.

The concept of selling Web content in a customized format is not unique, but BabyCenter is one of the early companies to offer it, according to Scott Stewart, MA, editor/publisher of Stewart Publishing, an Alexandria, VA-based company that publishes an Interactive Healthcare Directory of software for health-related education. "I expect to see much more of this over the next couple of years," says Stewart.