The Importance of E-learning

E-learning has tremendous potential to benefit the information layer of the health-care market, specifically the home health product market.

Consider the evidence. A few years ago, say in 2001, few people knew of a company called Google. In 2005, Google projects that it will generate several billion dollars of revenue. The company has done the best job Internet-wide of making information easily and readily accessible.

At a market sector level, health-care equipment manufacturers have a similar window of opportunity in 2005-2006 to differentiate themselves from their competition by making educational material—e-learning—easily and readily accessible to market stakeholders via the Internet.

The "learning" portion of e-learning ranges from core training at the professional level to combining product education with a unique marketing opportunity for consumers. In either case, all companies have the opportunity to materially improve their image in the eyes of key market players.

The key to e-learning potential is that the demand and the infrastructure on the demand side are demonstrable, if not overwhelming. Plain and simple, a critical mass of users are accessing the Web to find information about any and all activities pertaining to their lives. This critical mass will only grow in size.

The Pew Charitable Trusts indicate that the percentage of seniors who go online has jumped by 47 percent between 2000 and 2004. In a February 2004 survey, 22 percent of Americans age 65 or older reported having access to the Internet, up from 15 percent in 2000. That translates to about 8 million Americans age 65 or older who use the Internet. Those numbers grow for younger demographics: 58 percent of Americans age 50-64; 75 percent of 30-49-year-olds; and 77 percent of 18-29-year-olds currently go online.

According to Interactive Media Strategies, more than 90 percent of all businesses in the United States are connected to the Web. Such penetration is on par with utility providers like the phone and electricity companies. As a result, in the eyes of users, the Internet has moved from novelty to utility.

For medical equipment manufacturers, this means that well-designed and developed Web information services are not only good business practice, they are required business practice.

In addition to the reach and penetration of the Web, the connection cost is minimal and its ability to deliver the highest quality interactive content—up to and including video—is unparalleled.

Understand who benefits.

For the medical professional, few areas of information services are better suited to the Web than professional development. The nature and needs of medical education match the strengths of the Web almost perfectly. For example, training involves delivering content to many professionals who are often in dispersed locations, while the Web is an increasingly reliable, powerful, ubiquitous and low-cost media.

Historically, such training has been delivered as a luxury service: held in a hotel, delivered around a luxurious meal and taking the better part of a day.

Such an approach misses the mark for the medical professional. CE and CME credits are a requirement, not a luxury. Web delivery repositions the Web medical training so medical professionals can get the job done quickly and cost effectively. The anytime/anywhere nature of e-learning is not only convenient, under normal circumstances; it can be a lifesaver in emergencies. Consider this situation that arose with a client of one of ScribeStudio's customers.

Our customer received a call that a nursing home client was found in violation of state regulations relating to pressure ulcers. Fines in excess of $5,000 per day would begin within three days time if the nursing staff did not undertake more medical education.

Our customer directed the client to its beta version of their e-learning program. The nursing home simply paid our customer for their staff to access the e-learning material and exam. In passing these CE credits, the client solved the problem with the state without the time and expense of booking and paying for an instructor, meeting space and lost productivity.

Deliver the information.

In addition to delivering information to where the traffic is, vendors can use the Web to coordinate promotion with the delivery of said information. Promotions and discounts can easily tie into a customer's experience on a vendor's Web site. At the same time, the vendor reaps additional benefits by enabling customers to self-serve their need for product information. Instead of maintaining a costly customer service center, vendors can cut down on such overhead by establishing do-it-yourself service. In summary, the traffic online facilitates higher revenue potential and lower costs.

Provide a resource.

Providing a rich and useful educational resource to customers can help to reinforce a vendor's market image as a caring and helpful provider of valuable products. As a bonus, the higher levels of interaction and assessment capabilities often included in e-learning programs can be positioned to unobtrusively collect useful market data—all while offering a significantly more compelling and magnetic experience than mere brochures, product catalogs and even live presentations.

Do not just sell, but educate, too. Customers suffering from various maladies could learn more about their condition and treatment and be gently led toward choosing a vendor's products in their treatment—all within the context of legitimately receiving education and assistance. This way, medical equipment vendors could combine e-learning and marketing as a mutual benefit to themselves as well as to their customers.

The Web also enables the medical equipment provider small guys to play ball with the bigger players. The key success factors in shaping and delivering information are not scale and size, but rather creativity and relevance. We have already highlighted the well understood fact that Web connectivity by and large does not have a cost barrier to entry.

Focus on an area of e-learning.

Vendors can distinguish their product line through e-learning leadership. The key thing is to establish a focus to better ensure your program's success. Trying to be all things to all stakeholders at once and the risk of being nothing great to everyone is high. If the professional is a key influencer in the purchase process, then focus on CE or CME credit. Set up a critical mass of programs such as the number of credits needed for a full year's licensure and be the one-stop shop. Where you decide to focus should center on where you could most quickly gain a competitive advantage. For some vendors, that area could be in using e-learning to better train their staff and resellers.

Define initial budgets.

Original content is expensive to create. Partner with offline content providers and provide them distribution. Make sure you link and track e-learning customers to their ultimate purchase of goods or other services. The software is already available and affordable already to do so.

Make sure you have a holistic plan. E-learning is meant to be both a supplemental service and an investment to benefit your audience of medical professionals, customers and resellers. It is not the end in itself. E-learning must be properly positioned in relation to the product portfolio and other customer services offered.

Get started now. The advent of the Internet and Web may have helped to level the playing field for vendors of all sizes, but that equality also presents a challenge to further differentiate in an often crowded market. By reaching medical professionals, customers and other stakeholders via critical and useful education programs, e-learning could be your competitive advantage.

This article originally appeared in the September 2005 issue of HME Business.

About the Authors

John P. Bachner is executive vice president of ASFE/The Best People on Earth. He authors several columns for engineers and allied professionals and is a frequent seminar leader and instructor. ASFE is a not-for-profit trade association comprising geoprofessional, environmental, and civil engineering firms, design/build contractors, and educators.

Kathleen Moreo, R.N., CM, BSN, BHSA, CCM, CDMS, CEAC is president of Professional Resources In Management Education Inc. (PRIME), a health care educational company in Miramar, Fla., and is vice president of Moreo Construction Inc., an environmental access company serving Florida for the past 15 years. Moreo is the 2001 Distinguished Case Manager of the Year, as selected by the Case Management Society of America (CMSA), and is a past president of CMSA. She has been a national lecturer and author in case management, managed care and environment access for more than 20 years. She can be reached via e-mail at or visit www.prime.com.

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