Web therapy

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For ATL Ultrasound, the Internet's global appeal was too much to resist.

The medical imaging equipment manufacturer uses its Web site to distribute educational and new product information as well as to provide technical support to its 30,000 healthcare industry customers in 100 countries.

But ATL is ahead of the game.

"The healthcare industry lags behind other industries in its use of the Web for business-to-business marketing," says Bill Doyle, an analyst with Forrester Research, Cambridge, Mass.

No way to attract doctors

"Physicians are usually the target of healthcare marketing programs, but so far there have been no effective means of focusing this audience√Ö"attracting doctors to a single or group of healthcare Web sites," Mr. Doyle says.

That's due in large part to doctors' attitudes about the Web.

"Physicians' views of the Internet vary from ambivalence to active resistance," says Thomas Miller, VP of the emerging technologies research group at New York-based market researcher FIND/SVP, which along with MSB Associates, Needham, Mass., conducted focus group studies to determine what doctors think about the Internet.

Physicians not using Web

The studies, part of the American Interactive Healthcare Professional Survey, indicate that about 43% of physicians view the Internet as useful for professional purposes, but that 26% of doctors don't go online themselves. Instead, they pass the responsibility to assistants.

That hasn't stopped ATL Ultrasound, which for the past 18 months has been shifting its marketing communications programs to the Internet, replacing slower and more expensive print mailings.

"The Web has become an important communications tool for us," says Jane Hedberg, ATL's marketing communications director. "It is much more cost-effective than mail delivery and provides much more immediacy than other media. It hasn't completely replaced traditional media, but eventually we hope that it will."

The ATL Web site features product information segmented by medical specialty, a global dealer directory, professional education course listings, a reference library and an online catalog of imaging supplies that can be ordered on the site directly from the company. The company also uses a separate password-protected extranet to distribute product information to its dealer network.

Natural segmentation

"The design of the Web site allows us to naturally segment information in a way that is useful and practical for our customers," Ms. Hedberg says. "Physicians can choose product information written for their interests and specialties, such as cardiology and ob-gyn, and explore features that relate to their use and their practice."

Big in consumer

Up until now, the healthcare industry has made a big splash in consumer marketing on the Web.

"Hospitals and pharmaceutical companies are very active on the Internet but most perceive the Internet as a way of contacting patients or healthcare consumers, not physicians or business users," says John Donch, exec VP, the Evans Group, ATL's San Francisco-based ad agency.

"Medical technology companies like ATL are just starting to explore the possibilities of using the Internet to support their dealers and promote products to their customer base."

For many in healthcare, as has been the case in general, building sites that generate sufficient traffic has been difficult.

"Pharmaceutical companies have attempted to market high-profile products with informational Web sites and while the sites may have had some success in adding to the information flow to prescribing physicians, they do not at this stage provide an appropriate return on investment," says Bob Gear, managing director of Two Way Communications, an interactive marketing agency in Chicago. "The trick is getting the physicians to the site."

That's just what Physicians Online, an online service for doctors, is working on.

The 4-year-old company based in Tarrytown, N.Y. has 30,000 physician members and offers e-mail, technical databases and topical bulletin boards to participants.

In June, the company began a migration to the Internet, offering members password-protected access and expanded features including personal financial services and consumer shopping. Early this year, the company will begin hosting an online medical supply shopping service, the first of several new transaction-based services, says Dr. Steve Zatz, chairman.

Sponsorships and ads

Physician Online, which uses Two Way as its interactive agency, also offers sponsorships and rotating banner advertising to pharmaceutical and medical supply companies.

Banner advertising costs about $20,000 per month for a CPM of about $75.

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