A health care warrior armed with IT

Kristine Beck of Vangent keeps her focus on the health care needs of the military.

Since joining Vangent Corp.’s Military Health System team in 1999, Kristine Beck has been instrumental in the successful integration of various MHS Web sites into one organizational site.

Beck created and launched an award-winning Web 2.0 environment for fhp.osd.mil and www.health.mil to include profiles on Twitter, Facebook, MySpace and YouTube. Her colleagues say her communications strategy has improved transparency, patient outcomes, family integration and agency performance.

Dr. Michael Kilpatrick, director of strategic communications at MHS, said he first worked with Beck about five years ago when he was converting a Web site on Gulf War illnesses to the new Force Health Protection and Readiness Web site.

“She was a very quick study in understanding the medical lessons learned from the 1990-1991 Gulf War,” he said. “She brought a logic and a user-friendly flow to the organization of the information for the site and made it very popular with the military operational community.”

As a result, in mid-2007, the assistant secretary of Defense for health affairs asked Beck to redo the static Health Affairs “cobweb” site in the image of what she had done for Force Health Protection and Readiness, Kilpatrick said.

Beck called the work a labor of love.

“Having come from a military family and also knowing the system — my mother worked in the civil service side by side with the Navy — so I knew what the user community was and what they needed and what they were lacking,” she said.

Her background also includes program work for the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Social Security Administration.

Health.mil originally was an HTML Web site containing old information that was hardly ever updated, she said.

“People were really frustrated with it,” Beck said. “We went about reorganizing it and then we added in Web 2.0 functionalities — from blogs, wikis, forums to MySpace and Facebook kinds of applications.”

Beck said she approached the project as a grass-roots effort. That led to the creation of a system that allowed service members to securely communicate with their peers, promoting information sharing among them and their families.

Visitors to the site have increased from near zero in 2007 to 6,000 a month in 2008, to 190,000 a month this year. And user satisfaction has risen from a score of 52 at the onset to an approval rating of 76 at this time — well above the benchmark for government Web sites, Kilpatrick said.

“This is the only Web site in DOD where every posting is interactive because of her proactive planning,” he added.

Beck said the feedback on the new site has been personally satisfying.

“I would have to say the result has been that [users] have learned to trust us,” she said. “We’ve opened up a communications channel they didn’t have access to before.”

Beck and her team are working with the Veterans Affairs Department to share databases. At the same time, they are redesigning the MHS Web site to add more functionality. The idea is to make the site available through Apple iPhones, she said.

“That’s the latest thing," she said. "Folks are always on the go. They want to get all the information they can from their phones. That’s what we’re trying to do, make sure they can get the information wherever they are 24/7.”

Beck’s innovations were recognized by the 2008 eHealthcare Leadership Awards at the 12th annual Healthcare Internet Conference. Health.mil was cited as the best Web 2.0 site from more than 1,100 entries.

Beck said she didn’t know she had been nominated for a Rising Star award and was humbled by it.

“I kind of am a person that likes to do her job and move on to the next task to make things better for our [military] folks,” she said. “I really felt honored.”

About the Author

David Hubler is the former print managing editor for GCN and senior editor for Washington Technology. He is freelance writer living in Annandale, Va.

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