Web initiative coordinates health sciences internet presence

One of the defining benefits of the World Wide Web is its dynamic nature, its ability to instantly reflect change, and to expand and focus with the click of the mouse. But when this dynamism is applied to an organization the size and breadth of the Woodruff Health Sciences Center (WHSC)--encompassing three professional schools, a primate research center, and the Emory University System of Health Care (EUSHC)--that benefit might seem overwhelming and fragmented. Recognizing the value and power of the internet as a communication tool, Vice President for Health Affairs Charles R. Hatcher Jr. and the WHSC Executive Committee established a World Wide Web Initiative that has begun to bring a sense of unity to the center's representation on the web.

The initiative, established as part of the WHSC Health Communications Project (HCP), will "facilitate and coordinate structure, but not dictate content for web development" said Jeff Dunbar, HCP Administrator. With the addition of web expert Joel Goldsmith as the communications specialist, the office has been developing guidelines and examining some of the important questions about infrastructure. But this is not a project working in isolation. Goldsmith and Dunbar, along with HCP director Randolph Martin, are meeting regularly with a Web Policy Committee appointed by the deans and directors of the respective schools, hospitals and the Emory Clinic.

Dunbar admits that one of the primary challenges of such a project is finding graphic and textual consistency while also accommodating the various needs of the components of WHSC. The office has created a graphic template based on the design of the University's home pages that can be customized with relative ease by individual offices. Goldsmith noted that while "Hyper Text Mark-up Language (HTML) is easy to understand and learn, developing internet graphic sophistication becomes the more difficult task." He believes that the templates can be used by the average user with a basic skill level in graphics applications. The office hopes to publish style guidelines to help departments develop their pages with a graphic identity that reflects the level of sophistication and unity of the main home pages.

Recognizing that many health sciences professionals are already writing their own web pages, Goldsmith hopes to coordinate a regular users group meeting to share resources and ideas. He believes that one important role of the initiative will be to constantly research new internet technologies and to provide insight and resources to users. "Most of these people have another job," he explained. "We want to give them assistance, particularly in programming."

"The Health Sciences Center is involved in all aspects of health education, health research and patient care," said Martin. "The Web Initiative will be responsible for coordinating all of the activities of the various components of WHSC as it applies to this tripartite mission. Recognizing the increasing importance of the web for the dissemination of information, the initiative will serve to continue Emory's mission as being a leader in the delivery of health care."

Looking to the future, Goldsmith sees great potential for the internet to support health education, to share research information or to streamline "intra-net" patient care procedures. "As bandwidth becomes less of an issue, we will be able to incorporate a more multimedia component with audio and video," he said. Dunbar concurs with Goldsmith's optimism. Applauding the senior leadership for recognizing the internet as a valuable information tool, he pointed out that "the timing is good; there has been some important developments. We're in a good place; people are encouraged by the idea of a coordinated effort, and we were not so far down the road that we had to create a retro-fit mold."

Any interested health science organization should contact Goldsmith at 727-3137 or whscweb@emory.edu. The Health Sciences Center home page can be accessed at http://www.emory.edu/WHSC/.

--Matt Montgomery

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