Waiting-room time filled by facts and ads

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A North Carolina company wants to make magazines and brochures a thing of the past in doctors' waiting rooms.

Fyiquest is testing an ad-supported interactive wireless device that provides health news and information to people as they while away the time waiting to see a physician.

HealthPad devices, which resemble an Etch A Sketch, will be linked to a closed network attached to the Internet, allowing daily updates of information.

Consumers can get information on diseases and conditions their doctor treats, research the credentials of their physician, get information on alternative medicine, send e-mails to marketers, and browse general news and entertainment provided by USAToday.com.

The devices also will be available in examination rooms, where patients often wait some time before seeing a doctor, and include proprietary sections accessible only to doctors.

The company plans a national rollout in an estimated 1,000 offices this fall and hopes to expand to 10,000 during the next year. Doctors' offices get the devices for free.

TAPPING HEALTHCARE AD BOOM

Fyiquest, founded in 1998 by orthopedic surgeons, intends to tap the boom in healthcare advertising by offering marketers a way to reach consumers and doctors.

"If you're in a primary care office reading about allergies, that's a great place to read about Claritin," said Dr. David Ward, Fyiquest's president-chief medical officer.

Fyiquest is exploring exactly how ads will be integrated into content, but Dr. Ward said the overall look will be "a whole lot less cluttered than you see on a Web page."

"The goal is to create a presence, but not overwhelm people with advertising content," said Doug Stroup, senior VP at NCI Advertising, New York, which is working with Fyiquest to promote the device.

The company also is negotiating with drugstore chain CVS Corp. and health news provider WebMD, among others, to be significant advertisers and expects to cut deals by June.

"When five out of 10 patients go to a pharmacist after a (doctor's) visit, it's a key branding opportunity," Dr. Ward said.

WebMD would likely sponsor a medical section, where its content would be available about specific conditions.

EARLIER EFFORTS

Attempts to reach doctors and their patients through communication networks aren't new.

In 1994, Whittle Communications tried Medical News Net, which lasted six months. A year later, AccentHealth, now part of Axolotl Corp., launched the ad-supported TV Waiting Room Network, which the company says now is in 10,000 offices. Late last year, Helios Health launched e.Station in 400 doctors' waiting rooms. Advertisers on e.Station include Pharmacia & Upjohn's Detrol and Johnson & Johnson's Tylenol.

NCI will create trade and then consumer ads for HealthPad. NCI Chairman Fred Kellogg said physicians might be interested in offering the device because patients could use it to learn about their condition before they enter the exam room.

"If they come in prepared, it will allow physicians to cut costs, save time and make more money," he said. "Fifteen years ago doctors were kind of holier than thou and threatened by an informed patient. Now, they're seeing the benefits."

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