In an effort to capitalize on employees paying larger portions of their health costs, WebMD Health is marketing personal health records to people enrolled in employer health plans, the New York Times reports.
WebMD has signed multiyear licensing contracts with health insurers Aetna, Cigna and WellPoint and almost three dozen large U.S. employers - such as Bank of America and IBM - to operate private-access Web sites that allow employees to track their medical records, as well as find information about diseases and compare cost and quality ratings for physicians and hospitals.
At some employers, employees combine the answers of health status questionnaires on the Web sites with medical payment data to develop personal health records. Employees also receive reminders for periodic checkups and online alerts about medical conditions that require early intervention. According to the Times, the WebMD effort "could be the most visible test yet of whether the time has finally come for using the Internet as much more than an online medical encyclopedia and health care news medium."
Marty Wygod, CEO of WebMD, said, "Corporate America is looking for a way to educate its employees about health care costs and hopefully to move a substantial amount of those costs off their books."
Larry Feinberg, managing partner of Oracle Partners, said, "The opportunity for WebMD is enormous," adding, "It is so dominant in direct-to-consumer and direct-to-doctor access that it will be very difficult for anyone else on the Internet."
However, Christopher McFadden, a health care analyst at Goldman Sachs, said that WebMD might "be at risk from growing competition and the prospects that more technology decisions are centered within hospital networks, rather than physicians' offices."
Health care IT experts also maintain that the WebMD effort represents only an "interim step" to the "databases of detailed electronic medical records" that President Bush and Congress have proposed, with larger companies "vying for that market," according to the Times (Freudenheim, New York Times, 2/23).