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ADVANCE Perspectives: Healthcare Information Professionals

Putting the ‘Web’ in WebMD

Published February 25, 2016 2:13 PM by ADVANCE Perspectives

By Tamer Abouras


Speaking from my own perspective, it’s incredibly hard to remember what life was like before the internet touched virtually every part of mine. I don’t remember looking at paper maps for directions — or being particularly adroit when I did. I vaguely recall lugging around a portable CD player (as well as a booklet of CDs), but never once attempted going for a run or bike ride with one of those.


It seems preposterous that my morning sports page regularly didn’t have the results from late-ending west coast games or that anyone would have to wait hours upon hours for news to break on television. And how in the world did anyone choose the right restaurant to eat at before the advent of services like Yelp!


I’ve used the internet to secure every job I’ve ever had — and, by and large, to do every job I’ve ever had, including my current one. I read news articles and magazine features from around the world without getting lost in a paper chase, I buy, sell and pay bills all from the comfort of my desk (or simply by pulling out my phone) and I never have to sit and wait for the weather or traffic reports on morning radio.


And I certainly wouldn’t dream of making any substantial decisions, financial or otherwise, without doing a significant amount of research on what was once colloquially referred to as the “information superhighway.”

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One such beneficiary of our addiction to this sort of easy-access internet information is the concept of comparison shopping, which has now been seamlessly integrated into the routines of most people before making even tedious decisions, such as the aforementioned “what restaurant should I eat at?” query.


As such the popular health information website, WebMD, is wisely looking into ways that it can further insert itself into our own carousel of options when we require medical attention — beyond its maligned but widely used “Symptom Checker.” According to MobiHealthNews, “WebMD may soon begin to offer healthcare price transparency tools to users, and is even looking at becoming involved in telehealth, CEO David Schlanger said on a recent earnings call.”


With earnings for the company continuing to climb, Schlanger seems unwilling to sit back and lose out on a WebMD share of the casual comparison shopping that internet users now collectively take for granted.


“Unfortunately it's far easier to compare prices, relative service levels, and quality of restaurants, hotels, or virtually any other product online than it is to make a fully-informed decision regarding the purchase of a healthcare product or service. Even a simple generic prescription, you often don't know the price you'll have to pay for the product until you are standing at the register at the pharmacy counter ready to check out. We have begun to address this problem with enhancements to our provider directory that, among other things, will allow users to compare physician experience levels around specific procedures and conditions. We continue to work on other opportunities to better inform consumer decision-making,” Schlanger said.


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With regard to telehealth — something that is rapidly rising across healthcare disciplines — Schlanger also remarked that, “I think we believe as a company that alternative primary care like telehealth will eventually gain a wider adoption. We think that WebMD is well-positioned to provide access to those services because of the trust in our brands and our distribution.”


Schlanger’s overall point is very sound — there’s a yawning gap for the sort of one-stop comparison shopping mobile app and healthcare site that’s as widely used as Yelp! or TripAdvisor. The company’s success in filling that void will rely heavily upon its willingness to embrace the sort of constant change that life on the internet demands.


Fortunately, for those of us who already use WebMD’s product and services regularly, they’re not showing any symptoms of slowing down.

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    ADVANCE Editorial Staff
    Occupation: Editor
    Setting: ADVANCE for Healthcare Information Professionals
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