Technology Critical

AmeriNet's horizon is filled with initiatives and efforts that all essentially boil down to one theme: improving service to members—and technology will be a critical element of that goal.

According to David A. Verhulst, AmeriNet's v.p., information service division: "Healthcare is ripe for technology to exploit, so it could be one of the industries on the forefront of technology."

Member emphasis: Verhulst is responsible for AmeriNet's web site, Intranet site and e-commerce. He's been with the company for five and a half years and has a background in materials management and systems development.

"Technology has changed a lot since I've been here and although healthcare is behind the times, that is rapidly changing. They have a lot of priorities and information technology is not high on that list, but Y2K has given the Web more focus."

Verhulst's first aim was to claim AmeriNet's domain name, which is www.amerinet-gpo.com. "After that, our goal was to make our potential business partners aware of AmeriNet and now we have a lot of information that is member-oriented rather than general public-oriented."

AmeriNet's web site was launched in early 1996 as "a pretty basic site and we've had three major overhauls of its look and functionality since," says Verhulst. He is constantly working on the site, and last summer, created the Members Only section, which visitors need a password to access.

"The traffic is good but not as high as we'd like and our marketing has been aimed at promoting our site. We are working on our visitors being member-oriented and are trying to improve the content in the Members Only section to bring them back more frequently.

"The goal now is to maintain a public site orientation but the real focus and work behind the scenes is toward the Members Only section. We anticipate more supplier-oriented features, so we can show them how we can do business with them."

A Suppliers Only section is planned for this year. Currently, members primarily go to the suppliers' public web sites. "But in the future," says AmeriNet pres., Bud Bowen, "we hope to link our members directly to a secured location on the suppliers' sites which will recognize them as an AmeriNet member." One or two do that already, he adds.

"We also envision an Extranet, which will allow us to communicate membership information to the suppliers, and for them to transfer pricing, member purchase information, etc., all in a secured setting."

Gathering steam: "More will be done through the Internet in the future," says Verhulst. "Once it's on a roll with the AmeriNet industry, it's hard to slow it down. It's like a steamroller."

He points out that one of the issues has been the rural, smaller facilities which don't have access to the Internet. "We're seeing a rapid rate of attraction. People are getting hooked up and getting higher-speed access. Our larger members are already there and soon, people are going to be demanding more and more of it."

E-commerce is expected to grow, says Verhulst. "We are looking at our e-commerce strategy and surveying the opportunities that are out there and surveying the customers to find out what they want. We are also asking suppliers what their plans are and where they see e-commerce going."

There is already a lot of electronic ordering, he points out. "The smaller guys tend to use the fax and phone and therefore have more opportunity to make their ordering more electronic."

Electronic purchasing: "Right now, as much as 80% of medical product purchases and nearly 100% of pharmaceutical purchases are made electronically by hospitals," says Bowen. "The biggest growth areas will come from non-acute care providers, and other acute care departments such as f/s, engineering, laboratory, etc."

Bowen says that there is also interest from members to be able to auction off surplus equipment on the Internet. "Similarly, we think there may be some interest on the part of some of our equipment suppliers to auction off excess inventory, or outdated models through this medium."

AmeriNet recently created an e-business strategy group, which includes all of the company's senior management. Its purpose is to recognize the rapid rate of change with e-commerce and the Web and to figure out how it will all fit into the supply chain.

"There are lots of big healthcare manufacturers looking to do more web-based business and they want to know how we can be more efficient at using the Internet to get to our customers and using the Internet to speed everything up," says Verhulst.

Technology will play a particularly important role in AmeriNet's Integrated Delivery Network (IDN) Support Svcs. Div., recently created to monitor the purchasing activity of IDNs—which currently represents one-third of AmeriNet's purchasing volume.

New technology will bring many changes to the IDN Div., according to Don Glozer, v.p. IDN Support Svcs. Networks are likely to be early embracers of technology "because in many situations, those that are the most integrated are more advanced than freestanding facilities and more forward-thinking."


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