The New Health Empire

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Entrepreneur and America Online (AOL) founder Steve Case is banking on pharma marketers to help him build an online healthcare empire with his new company Revolution Health.

The idea for Case’s ultimate healthcare brand was born out of a personal tragedy. Six years ago, Case, founder and CEO of Revolution Health, watched as his brother Dan navigated a “complicated,” “scary” and “confusing” healthcare system before succumbing to terminal brain cancer, he explains.

“I really believe healthcare in this country is screwed up,” Case says of the experience. “It’s one of the largest industries in our country but it’s fundamentally broken. People generally don’t trust it. They are generally not satisfied. They have a good relationship with their physician but generally feel like the system isn’t working for them. I felt the best way I could make a contribution was to build a company that, like AOL was, can be a change agent and a disrupter and force the system to change.”

Case says he saw striking similarities between the way the healthcare system looks and the way the Internet looked 25 years ago. And he feels there is plenty of room to reach healthcare consumers in new ways.

The launch
Case launched RevolutionHealth.com on April 19. Although it is still too early too tell how its arrival will impact the online healthcare media landscape, its presence has certainly been felt. During part of the preview phase, the site pulled in an audience of 486,000 unique visitors, according to figures from comScore Media Metrix.

And the online start-up has certainly gotten the attention of WebMD, Yahoo! Health, About.com and Everydayhealth.com—all have updated their technologies in recent months as they vie for maximum share of consumer eyeballs and pharma marketers’ ad dollars.

These results are promising considering one of the most relevant pieces of the Revolution Health puzzle for marketers will be the Web portion of the business, says chief medical officer Dr. Jeffery Gruen.

The Web portal’s revenue model is advertising based, according to Gruen, and is already allowing pharma marketers to develop closer ties with consumers. “We are providing a tool to find the audience pharmaceutical companies are most interested in speaking to and we are providing consumers with tools so they can become productive and have everything at their fingertips to help them be compliant,” Gruen says.

The online tools Gruen refers to include member-created Web pages, physician blogs, a pharmaceutical “medicine chest” section, a symptom checker, a tool kit featuring calculators, assessments and trackers, and ratings for doctors and hospitals.

“We’ve licensed some pretty extraordinary content from places like Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic, Harvard Medical School, Healthwise and 30 to 40 others,” says Gruen. “We have also amassed the largest collection of physicians regularly blogging anywhere on the Internet.”

At press time, its blog staff consisted of 130 medical experts, including nine current or past presidents of medical societies, and a “couple of dozen” chairmen and department directors. “We have them blogging multiple times a week, so it’s a very active service,” says Gruen.

The Web portal also places an emphasis on ratings through a licensed national database of 500,000 physicians and hospitals nationwide. “We have demographic data on doctors and hospitals and we allow consumers to rate their experiences and share those ratings.”

Acquisitions and alliances
At launch time, Revolution Health acquired TLContact, whose CarePages service enables the building of online communities to support family members and friends receiving medical care.

Revolution Health also announced a powerful package of partnerships to bolster its Web offering, including iVillage Total Health, which offers tools to help women manage their health and the health of their families by assessing their risk for diseases including diabetes, stroke and heart disease. iVillage Total Health will offer Revolution Health’s “Know Your Risk” assessment tool on health.iVillage.com.

Additionally, a deal with American Academy of Family Physicians allows the association’s 94,000 members to build personalized home pages on Revolution Health, from where the physicians can recommend interactive tools, trackers and blogs to their patients.

And Columbia University Medical Center has teamed up with the portal to create a new internet destination for pregnancy and maternal health on Revolution Health. Columbia’s department of obstetrics and gynecology doctors and researchers will participate in weekly blogs.

Case’s start-up will also work with nonprofit groups, including the Susan G. Komen for the Cure, Society for The Women’s Health Research, Autism Speaks, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, American Public Health Association, Accelerate Brain Cancer Cure, National Family Caregivers Association and The Wellness Community, to raise awareness of health issues and promote good health.

“Our sweet spot is building the relationship and being a trusted source,” Gruen adds. “Part of the reason we can do that is we have a very deep commitment to building trust and to objectivity. We are garnering the trust of consumers because we are objective. We think that pharmaceutical products bear scrutiny. When consumers understand them, they probably want them more. They should, because they are often tremendous products. We are committed to an objectivity that allows us to build relationships. Our goal is to help everybody work together to be more effective.”

A step further
For a fee of $129 per year, individuals are offered an option to enroll in a premium membership if they want individualized help with their healthcare questions and needs. Premium members get help dealing with insurance claims, scheduling appointments, access to software to track medical expenses and insurance reimbursements and a secure “fax-and-store” service to convert paper medical records into an online format for consumers to access remotely from any computer at any time.

Gruen says Revolution Health is also readying to provide consumers with help purchasing insurance policies, so that it’s simpler for them to compare products. “We are not offering insurance ourselves, obviously we are not a plan, but we help connect consumers with the right one,” he says.

Revolution Health will also become involved in actual direct care delivery. “We are investing in a separate corporation that provides convenient care clinics in Wal-Mart, Walgreens and HEB stores, in approximately half a dozen markets around the country, according to Gruen.

“There are opportunities for pharmaceutical marketers in each of our businesses, Gruen adds. “Steve Case likes to say Revolution Health is a 20-year project. What we are hoping to do is build a unique kind of company…We think this is very exciting. The feedback we are getting is very exciting for the pharmaceutical industry.”
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