Monday saw the launch of a new Web portal designed to give consumers easy access to health information and allow them to save their electronic personal health records.
Sound familiar? It should. The new site, myOptumHealth.com provides services similar to those provided by WebMD, Everyday Health, and Google—but with one major difference: OptumHealth is the health and wellness arm of UnitedHealth Group, one of the largest providers of health benefits, with a customer base of more than 60 million.
“We believe we can package those solutions into direct-to-consumer subscription services that consumers will want to buy directly from us,” said Scott Heimes, senior vice president of consumer solutions at OptumHealth. “That’s why we launched a consumer health portal, and we will add e-commerce transactions to [it] in 2009.” The general site, however, is free of charge. Additional features are available for registered users, but signing up only takes a few minutes.
The consumer health site offers information pages from content providers as well as the site’s in-house editorial team, including thousands of videos and articles—all organized in fairly easy-to-navigate categories. A search engine, courtesy of Healthline Networks, targets health information, weeding out non-medical content. The company also offers symptom, drug, and treatment searches as well as a BMI calculator.
Vertical Search, Targeted Ads
“Our search is different in that we leverage our taxonomy to deliver a more holistic result based on what the user is searching for,” said Joe Petrosino, vice president of ad sales at Healthline Networks. “Healthline is just about medical searching, because it is the only thing that we do. We also crawl 250,000 medically credible Web sites to get the best health info on the Web.”
The search tool can also contextually target ads on any site within the network. For example, a migraine advertiser can choose to have its ads appear only on pages with migraine content, not general headache content.
The site currently offers advertising opportunities for pharmaceutical companies; the home page currently carries ads for Seroquel and Humira that lead users to branded sites for the drugs.
Health Records: Under Construction
OptumHealth also includes a personal health records (PHR) tool—not unlike those offered by Microsoft and Google—that allows users to store their electronic medical records. To sign up for a PHR, users must register for the site. In the future, the company plans to integrate the tool with Microsoft’s Health Vault for ease of use. Users do not need to be UnitedHealth members to use the service; in fact, members are currently unable to move claims from the UnitedHealth site to the PHR service. Heimes said that the ability to move files would eventually be added.
“We are in the early stages of adoption of personal health records,” he said. “But use is growing rapidly, and as more physicians and health plans make it possible to share heath and medical data in an automatic way, it will create a more robust market and stronger demand for PHRs.”
The big question is: Are there too many online health networks? The social network scene has recently seen backlash against a surplus of options, with people no longer interested in keeping Myspace, Facebook, and Friendster accounts. Could the health industry see a similar reaction?
“The thing that separates us is that this is our business,” Heimes told Pharm Exec. “We already serve 61 million consumers with health and wellness solutions, and we have hundreds of thousands of partners in the space that are part of our team. We are directing that level of expertise to the business of providing solutions to consumers.”