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What -- Me Worry?

Just four or five years ago, I expected the Internet to transform my life. I expected to purchase everything online, forsaking retail forever. I expected to never again dial an 800 number. I half expected Barnes & Noble to close.

Hasn't happened. In fact, the wild ride of the past five years--the infancy of the Internet--has measurably demonstrated where its power rests and where it doesn't.

The economic slump, the dotbombs and the thousands of pink-slipped techies have proven what some of us theorized all along. When you strip away inflated valuation, IPOs that never should have happened and handsock puppets that herald buying 60-pound bags of dog food online "because pets can't drive," the Internet is, after all, a channel of communication. It's a pervasive, speed-of-light channel of communication, but nevertheless--it's a channel across which information travels.

I am clearer today than ever before on where the Internet is going and where it's not. Where it's not is into sectors like luxury retail, manufacturing and transportation. Like you, I'll buy vitamins, CDs, shoes or books online. But a new car, a sofa or a chandelier? I don't think so. Heck--so many people refused to pay shipping for those 60-pound bags of dog food that even Pets.com (far from being a luxury e-taller) closed in a heartbeat.

Manufacturing is another sector poorly suited for the Internet. The Net works fine for logistics and supply chain management, but that's loading, shipping, tracking and coordination of goods. It's not the making of goods. Seams must still be sewn, wheels must still be attached and goods must still be manufactured in plants and transported by truck, rail, sea or air. Inventory control managers use the Internet to decide when to ramp up or moderate production, but that's decision-making, not manufacturing.

Now approaching adolescence, the Internet is proving itself to be the perfect vehicle for the transmittal and exchange of information. Sectors best suited for the Internet are those that are information intensive and dependent upon informational exchange--sectors like healthcare, finance and education.

Firms like Merrill Lynch have already demonstrated the Net's potential for influencing action based on information exchange. While online universities have yet to flourish, the Internet has enabled research capabilities like never before. Data and information formerly out of reach are now just clicks away.

Which leaves healthcare, the proverbial slow adopter. To which I say--who cares? If it takes another year or two for healthcare providers to feel secure enough to stash thousands of patient records in repositories and access them via the Internet, then it does. If it takes another year or two for providers to feel confident enough to transmit claims for automated online adjudication, that's life. If it takes another year or two for physicians to work out methods by which they use the Internet for patient communication without lengthening their workdays or being hit with 600 e-mails a day, so be it.

Slow adoption doesn't worry me. No adoption might worry me and inappropriate adoption does worry me. Healthcare providers with their Missourian show-me attitudes will adopt more whole-heartedly in their own good time. Given its information intensive nature, healthcare is poised for inevitable Internet success--just not tomorrow.
COPYRIGHT 2001 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Industry Trend or Event; the future of the Internet
Author:BLAIR, ROBIN
Publication:Health Management Technology
Article Type:Column
Date:Jun 1, 2001
Words:532
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