WebMD: The Patient Value Equation

Jul 10, 2014

A renewed focus on the costs of healthcare, combined with the Affordable Care Act's incentive structure that attempts to prioritize quality of care above quantity of care, puts WebMD—a household name for online medical information with patients, physicians and caregivers—in a position to connect the dots that draw a picture of tomorrow's patient need.

David Schlanger, a former pharma industry executive, became CEO of WebMD last year. He first joined the company in 1995.
David Schlanger became WebMD's CEO in August of 2013, but first joined the company in 1995, after serving as executive director, business development at Merck. The commercialization of pharmaceutical drugs has changed a lot in two decades: industry's focus on specialty drugs for smaller populations and patients with chronic disease has supplanted the emphasis on big name primary care products, and the blanket TV buys that propelled them into blockbuster glory. At last month's DIA meeting in San Diego, Lisa Stockbridge, branch chief, advertising and promotional labeling branch at FDA's Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research (CBER), noted that only one television ad for a biologic came through the agency for review in 2013.

Schlanger says he chuckles when he sees Abbvie's TV ad pushing Humira for Crohn's disease—"there's only 2 million people with Crohn's disease" in the US—because it stands as a relic of a bygone era where the biggest media spend all but guaranteed the largest chunk of the market. Money still talks, of course, but fewer patients are all tuned in to the same listening apparatus. Physicians and patients still need to be educated about prescription drugs, but with limited access to the former, and a larger cost burden placed on the latter, drug companies hoping to reach their target audiences (and target sales revenues) do better by concentrating on the quality of interaction, not the quantity of exposure.

PE: As a well-known online destination for health information for patients, and for physicians through WebMD's Medscape division, what has changed in terms of what your visitors want to see when they visit your website?

Photo: Thinkstock
Schlanger: In today's world, consumers are bearing much more financial burden for their care—high deductible health plans, with employers pushing costs off to their employees—so patients really need tools to help them make decisions in a more effective way. Physicians are contracting with health plans in much different ways, and are being compensated differently. The old world of fee-for-service medicine is evolving into one where you're going to be compensated at least partially based on the outcomes you produce, and how efficient you are in delivering care. There's a real need for consumers and physicians to manage care more effectively together, so our goal is to help them do that using our platforms.

PE: What's the missing link in connecting patients with physicians outside of the doctor's office? Several large companies—Google Health, Microsoft Health, etc. – have tried and failed to do exactly that.

Schlanger: One of our major initiatives is that we're connecting our audiences of consumers and physicians to allow WebMD to be the place where a consumer manages all of their healthcare information. That information doesn't necessarily need to be entered by patients themselves; it might come from biometric devices like glucometers, wearable activity monitors, and electronic health records from healthcare providers—incented by the Affordable Care Act—or even data shared from an employee's health risk assessment. We think that we can be the central place for a truly collaborative care record that enables consumers and health professionals to jointly manage care. We're also building a suite of services for healthcare professionals, administrative functions like appointment scheduling, check in, and copay collection.

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