Professional Point

Over the last year, the APA Practice Organization has been working to enhance our information technology capability to increase our efficiency and help us better accomplish our advocacy mission on behalf of practitioners. A central component of this process is developing a practitioner portal, set to launch in August. APA members who pay the Practice Organization special assessment will have access to the portal at the APA Practice Organization Web site.

Members often ask us "What is a portal?" Some equate it to a Web site. We believe, however, that a portal is much more. If a Web site is pictured as a two-dimensional presentation of information, a portal should be viewed as three-dimensional. Some describe it as a gateway to a wide array of strategically organized information and services, a place to go online that enables easy access to those materials and services that are most relevant to practitioners. Importantly, there is also an interactive quality to a portal, something often missing from a Web site. With overwhelming amounts of information available on the Internet, the portal will enable practitioners to readily find the information and services most relevant to them and to customize, to a large extent, information they receive.

An evolving service

The portal will continue to evolve, both because we cannot include everything practitioners have told us they would like to see in the first version of the portal and because practitioner needs will change over time. The Practice Organization has conducted considerable research on what practitioners, state and provincial associations, and practice divisions would like to see on the portal. We have already conducted telephone and online surveys, member focus groups, townhall type discussions, and other stakeholder interviews. We also plan to continue collecting survey data, and conducting usability and beta testing once the first version of the portal is operational.

Research to date has indicated that practitioners want health and psychology news, practice management and enhancement tools, event and conference updates, materials to help promote their practices, and resources to ensure ongoing compliance with state and federal health-care regulations.

Interestingly, the demand we found for regulatory compliance information and materials predates the more recent growing awareness of the regulatory requirements of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). We assume that interest is even greater now that the HIPAA privacy rule is on the practice community's radar screen. The first version of the portal will help us continue the education about HIPAA privacy leading up to the April 2003 compliance date.

A good connection

While the uses and benefits of the Internet have probably been overestimated and over-hyped in recent years, this form of information technology definitely has attributes we believe will be quite helpful to the APA Practice Organization and the practitioners we serve through our advocacy work. Increased "connectivity" is one potential consequence of the Internet that virtually everyone acknowledges. From our vantage point, we look forward to being better able to connect the Practice Organization and its programmatic work to the practice community. Getting information out to practitioners and hearing from practitioners at "Internet speed" will contribute much to our efforts. And we anticipate using the portal to help practitioners better connect to each other.

As a part of our survey research, we asked participants, "What are the top three reasons you belong to APA?" The number one reason (80 percent of respondents) was to be part of the larger professional community of psychologists. We intend to utilize the portal to strengthen the ties within the practitioner community.

The next most important reason for joining APA, identified by 73 percent of survey participants, was to receive timely and professionally relevant information and services. We think the portal will enable us to increase both the timeliness and relevance of the information and services provided to special assessment payers.

The third top reason (46 percent) for joining APA among those we surveyed was to support professional advocacy efforts. We think the Practice Organization--whose primary mission it is to do professional advocacy--will be able to increase its advocacy by integrating into our activities the new information technologies the practitioner portal will provide.

One of the lessons learned from the "dot-com boom and bust" was that new and interesting technology alone will not guarantee success. Rather, it is critical that new technology be designed to solve specific problems or to achieve specific goals. Our work to develop the portal has focused on what practitioners need and want, and how to better achieve the mission of the Practice Organization. We think the result will be much more than just another new and interesting technology.