The Plot to Bring Down WebMD

Published: Thursday, Feb 21, 2008
And with eight out of every 10 Internet users searching for health information--according to WebMD President and CEO Wayne Gattinella--the online portal has become "the most recognized and trusted source of health information today." In fact, Gattinella told MDNG that more than 35 million people visited the site each month in the fourth quarter of 2006. There's no questioning WebMD's popularity; we've highlighted resources found there dozens of times during OncNG's eight-plus years, you've probably seen their advertisements on television, and we bet more than one of your patients have come to the office with printouts of information they found at the site.

Although WebMD has carved out a prominent place on the Internet, recent trends have threatened to make the company's products and services less relevant to some health consumers. Most importantly, Americans are increasingly being exposed to and using content on blogs, wikis, online forums, and other forms of user-generated media. For example, according to an Envision Solutions study, 5% of people searching for information about the antidepressant Lexapro between mid-December 2006 and mid-January 2007 went to Crazymeds.org. This is a popular blog featuring insights on the safety and efficacy of psychiatric medications. Web 2.0 technologies like blogs are increasing the visibility of citizen medical experts, and consumers are increasingly relying on them for "straight talk" about health issues. People are also using these tools to share tips about treatment and caregiving. The Internet has also helped to fuel a more patient-focused model of healthcare delivery.

Armed with information from a variety of online and offline sources, consumers are asking physicians more questions about their care. In addition, baby boomers are taking steps to preserve their health and vitality in a bid to stave off the aging process. These changes in how people view their health have created a cadre of active patients who require more support and information than what WebMD has traditionally provided. Clearly, there is an opportunity to deliver new online services to consumers that combine peer-to-peer communication with financial, medical, and provider information. Recognizing this, a number of new companies are feverishly developing and launching products they think will satisfy consumers' needs, in the hopes of capturing a significant percentage of WebMD's audience.

The Contenders

WebMD's new competitors include Revolution Health, US Preventive Medicine, Everyday Health, the HealthCentral Network, Organized Wisdom, and Daily Strength. Appearing in late December 2006 and with a planned full 2007, Revolution Health--backed by America Online (AOL) founder Steve Case, as well as Colin Powell, Carly Fiorina, Jim Barksdale, and Frank Raines--is WebMD's strongest competitor, currently offering at no services, disease information, articles, forums, more than 100 fun tools to help people and their families stay healthy--"why does healthcare always have to be so boring?" asks Case in his welcome letter--calculators, a physician finder, symptom checkers, and more.

"We believe that the transformation of healthcare entails three principles," Revolution Health Chief Medical Officer Jeffrey Gruen, MD, told MDNG. "The first is to make healthcare simpler, more consumer-friendly, easier to access, easier to use, and more comprehensive. The second is to build a strong bond between physicians and patients. We would like to help raise again the nobility of the profession of medicine in the public's eye and to help patients and physicians connect in new, more meaningful ways. We'd like to make it easier for patients to find physicians who they feel they'll be able to resonate with. We have tools to help them there. We also have tools to help physicians know more about their patients, including a tool called Know Your Number, which includes scientific data on risks for contracting certain diseases that we can provide to patients to then bring to their physicians."

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