March 6, 2000
On Being a Hospital Webmaster
Lionel C. Bethancourt
Being a hospital site's Webmaster is not an easy task. ...
Let me rephrase that: being a hospital site's Webmaster is a very challenging job. Yes. That's better...
Come to think about it, a hospital is a mini-cosmos of ideas, all gathered together for just one purpose: healing.
And as such, from the very beginning the hospital website has to have a definite purpose. Though it may change during its existence, there must always be purpose. This purpose is what's going to give the site its inner structure and thus, its outer form. Even if it is just to say: "Hey Ma, lookit me! I'm on top of the world!" That's purpose... a rare deviation of it, but still...
And the Webmaster is the person who's going to orchestrate all the hospital's ideas into one single harmonic drive in its internet's website. Furthermore, he/she should be the liaison between html-related technology and the rest of the hospital staff.
As a Webmaster myself (I'm responsible for the http://"www.hcanc.org.br">Hospital do Cancer - AC Camargo's website at Sao Paulo, Brazil), I've worked towards one single goal at a time at my hospital's site. It's better that way. One step at a time. There's no rush. And, it's far safer, too...
After a year and a half of research at the internet and data gathering at the hospital, we could finally lay out a rough simple plan of what we intended to achieve.
First, we had to show that we existed and worked hard in our field - oncology. Second, we started showing some of our works and results. Each time we oriented our site to a specific public... First, for those who didn't know, then to those who should know.
Now we are at phase three of our original plan: we are trying to inform in such a way as to teach and make a difference along the way. Thus aiming at these who know.
Every phase brought along its own secondary projects.
- The first phase brought the first oncology glossary in a hospital website in Brazil. It still draws many viewers and we update it as fast as we can, which normally it's not fast enough.
- The second brought the Essays, Agenda and Protocols (the latter, not yet published) pages.
- The third; Case Discussion and (amazingly) the Library, which rapidly became one of the ten (#5) most viewed pages of our site.
Why we did it like this?
We had a rough time getting some of these projects done. It was not all that easy. Some expected more fireworks, Java and videos, and De Millean theatricals from the start, lured by some webpages they've seen. Here's where cultural diversity stepped in. We had to think about what our country needed, first.
Basic, simple cancer information.
And how to deliver this information -- not all at once -- but at a safe speed, so everybody that read it could be equally informed. And, informed right.
Also who would read this? In Brazil, this probably meant that part of the middle and upper classes would be the first to read us. Coincidentally, these social strata are from where most of our physicians come from. Then, our first public was roughly made up of curious high-school students and young adults. The second; bio- and med students, patients and their relatives. The most common trait was: they understood little or no English at all.
And one of the only information sources about cancer they could find, in Portuguese, was us.
And we delivered, without patronizing nor excessive technicalities. We still receive patients from other cities and states simply because they read how we work through our pages. We also receive questions from patients and physicians alike, about cancer and oncologic treatment.
On the other hand, as we began receiving monthly visitors reports, we saw that we were getting visitors from non-portuguese speaking countries (Jordan, Israel, Japan and Italy to mention few). Today our monthly visitors second population comes from the United States. And we've had months when we get more than 50% (51.37% in 11/99) of foreign visitors. Which led us to step up on the translation to English and Spanish of our site. Now we got almost all our site translated to English and we're translating to Spanish, fast. And then, there's another consideration to take into account: not everything that we present in Portuguese to Brazilian visitors is the same for foreigners. So we have to sort the information presented to foreign visitors in our English and Spanish mirror sites.
Not everything works out the way we intend to. And these 'flops' are analyzed and scurried away as soon and as fast as we can.
And as it often happens with physicians at a hospital, the Webmaster might not be a single person. But, the sum of many.
When we started the website, in 1996, we were only two people working on it. And, I was still battling html code basics then, though I had worked in this area (scientific information) for more than 20 years now.
Now, we've got three people just for html coding. And most of our data is reviewed prior publishing.
Lionel C. Bethancourt
Hospital do Câncer - AC Camargo
São Paulo - BRASIL