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Business Students Help Health Care Company Build New Web-based Portal for Patient Records

A group of University of Iowa business students spent the year helping a multibillion dollar health care information management company figure out how to get more consumers to better manage their health care using online portals.

The students are part of the Tippie College of Business’ Marketing Institute, which gives undergraduate marketing majors the opportunity to work as marketing consultants with businesses to solve their real business problems. In this case, the client was AllScripts Health Care Solutions, a $1.4 billion company that provides electronic health record services to hospitals, clinics, and other health care providers to more than 180,000 physicians in 11 countries.

The company recently entered the health care portal market, which provides patients with access to their health care records through the web. The company hired the Marketing Institute students to find out how to increase their market share in the crowded health care portal market, and more specifically, to find out why so many patients are reluctant to use health care patient portals.

“The question they looked at was, what do health care providers and patients want in a patient portal,” says Peggy Stover, lecturer and faculty director of the Marketing Institute. “We need to better understand the barriers preventing patients from using a patient portal, and more specifically, the perceptions people had regarding Allscripts 'Follow My Health' patient portal.”

The students started working on the project last September and their first task was to learn more about an industry that none of them knew even existed. They compared Allscripts’ patient portal to others in the marketplace via competitive mapping, and interviewed consumers and health care providers to find out what kind of information they wanted in a portal and why they may be reluctant to use one.

Once the data was gathered, the students used an eye tracker in Tippie’s Behavioral Lab to follow participants’ gaze across Allscripts’ portal and record the interactions. They also created a heat map to determine the portal’s “hot zones,” those areas where participants focused their gaze.

The study took about eight months to complete and the findings were presented in April to Brenda Stewart, Allscripts’ vice president of marketing, and her team.

“The findings, implications, and recommendations made by the Marketing Institute team blew us away,” says Stewart. “The caliber of their work is A-plus. We will be exploring how to implement their recommendations over upcoming months.”

The students said that while the work was more difficult than regular classroom work, it was more enjoyable and rewarding.

“The best part was working with a business on an actual problem, taking what we’ve learned in class and working on a plan with a client,” says David Lam-Lu, a Marketing Institute student on the team.

While students get a grade for their work on the project, they say the experience was more like a career.

“Being flexible is important,” says Talib Al-Sammaraie, who grew up in Iraq and was the project team leader. “Sometimes things fall apart and you have to go back to the start.”

Along with the experience came lessons from the workplace. Rearranging your schedule at the last minute, for instance. And flexibility.

“We treated it was like it was our job, not just a grade,” says Susan Billings, a student from Evergreen Park, Ill.

Other student members of the team include Tom Waste from Cedar Rapids and Anne Wanner from Wheaton, Ill.

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