WebMD is getting personal. That’s the upshot of the portal’s latest venture, an alliance with QualcommLife announced earlier this month at the HIMSS conference in New Orleans.
The collaboration puts WebMD on track to create medical devices that tap into Qualcomm’s FDA-approved Life 2Net Platform, ones capable of storing personal information and syncing data clouds with other 2Net Platform users such as activity tracker FitBit. WebMD chief technology officer William Pence told MM&M the deal gives WebMD the latitude to help multi-brand device users keep what they’ve got and build from there for an enhanced WebMD experience. He likened it to the TV service Roku, which blends information from distinct data or subscription services, like HULU and Netflix, and funnels it into one touchpoint.
It would also allow WebMD, which has been struggling to hang onto ad revenue and fend off competitors like Everyday Health, to better leverage the information millions of profiled users have provided to the site. Pence told MM&M the deal is in sync with where the company has been heading because the “last few years have been less about content and more about interactive goods.” He noted that users are already incorporating the site into daily life by using WebMD apps in locations such as at the doctor’s office or at the pharmacy, and pointed to the 17 million app downloads and 22 million visitors to the WebMD mobile site as evidence of demand for on-the-go resources. Creating devices, he said, will build “a bridge into a lifelong relationship with WebMD.”
But fitness is not where WebMD is going. Instead, Pence said their focus will be on chronic conditions. He envisions being able to offer users a suite of supportive devices, such as heart monitors or a glucometer, at no cost, and sees the services providing helpful recommendations based on user data (for example: “it looks like you might find a glucometer helpful”). Pence said the new business will also let the company do something unique in the device realm: wrap the data with contextual insights by tapping into the content WebMD already has.
Pence noted that the company has an added, if intangible, benefit—a backlog of consumer trust, critical to getting users to share health data.
“People know we’re sensitive to the needs of the consumer,” said Pence. “The brand is really what gives us some confidence that we can pull this off.”
The first device will come out this fall and WebMD’s initial focus will be on consumers. At the same time, Pence said the company is looking to ease doctors into accepting devices as helpful tools for patient care. He’s cognizant of physician anxieties about data overload. “We know their needs,” he said.