Hopkins puts health data on the Web High-tech marketing means revenue for 'our teaching mission'

Competitors abound

Officials envision a venture that grows with consumer trust

July 11, 1996|By M. William Salganik and Timothy J. Mullaney | M. William Salganik and Timothy J. Mullaney,SUN STAFF

Johns Hopkins Hospital and medical school yesterday announced a deal to market consumer health information on the World Wide Web and in a variety of other forms, ranging from pagers to direct-mail catalogs.

Stamping the Hopkins "brand" on its information is InteliHealth, being launched with $25 million from U.S. Healthcare, an HMO company. In return for its "intellectual capital" and the use of its reputation, Hopkins will have an undisclosed stake in InteliHealth, in addition to receiving royalties.

The new venture comes at a time when there is already a bewildering array of health information available on the Web -- thousands of sites from hospitals, insurance companies and groups concerned with particular diseases.

More direct competition was announced yesterday, as AT&T Corp. said that tomorrow it will launch a test of a consumer-oriented Web location it will call HealthSite.

The AT&T venture will include information from the Mayo Clinic and Health- News, a sister publication of New England Journal of Medicine.

But Tom Durovsik, a former PepsiCo marketing executive who is chief executive officer of InteliHealth, said yesterday that most Internet health information is clinical or academic, while his Web site would be "very consumer-centric."

Further, he said, "we will be building the Johns Hopkins brand, with its authority in the marketplace.

"I believe we can create consumer trust with our brand that no other health site or source can match."

Hopkins already markets consumer information through a newsletter, guidebooks and "white papers," all produced by an outside firm called Medletter Associates, and "the next logical step for us was the multimedia arena," said Scott L. Sherman, a medical school assistant dean who heads Hopkins' Consumer Health Information Office.

Sherman said Hopkins was interested in the venture to "improve the health of the public" and because it was "looking for new sources of unrestricted revenue to support our teaching mission." He said Hopkins chose InteliHealth because of its "multifaceted" distribution plan and its "consumer-marketing muscle."

Doing business via the World Wide Web has keen allure for marketing and technology visionaries, but experts said few have figured out the right formula for actually building successful nontechnology businesses online.

"Five years down the road, most of these publishers will probably be relying on advertising just as much as they would for the regular [publication]," said Chris Landes, a consultant with TeleChoice Inc. in Verona, N.J. "No one has really done it yet."

The Hopkins-InteliHealth Web site, which is slated to begin Oct. 1, won a positive review from a telecommunications expert who has seen the prototype.

"I was pretty impressed. The look is not any breakthrough, but the content is terrific," said Gary Arlen, who runs the consulting firm Arlen Communications in Bethesda.

But he said the AT&T venture "has an equally broad amount of material."

InteliHealth expects to open a Baltimore office with three or four employees within two months.

It will share space at Hopkins' medical institutions with Sherman's office and a multimedia studio where Hopkins faculty can work on InteliHealth projects, such as conducting online chat sessions. Hopkins faculty will be paid by InteliHealth for work done in writing, editing or reviewing material.

Most of the information development, however, will be done at InteliHealth's headquarters in Blue Bell, Pa., outside Philadelphia. Durovsik said the goal is to create "the richest and deepest database in the world" for consumer health information.

There are 22 employees in Blue Bell currently, and there could be 50 by the end of the year, Durovsik said.

Blue Bell is also the headquarters of U.S. Healthcare, the HMO company that is being bought by Aetna Life & Casualty Co. in an $8.9 billion deal. But Durovsik said U.S. Healthcare's role is as InteliHealth's only investor, and the HMO firm will not be involved providing health information or in marketing InteliHealth to consumers.

That marketing should make the company profitable within one to two years, Durovsik said, and "there is a tremendous upside to our plan." He declined, however, to make specific projections or to indicate what share of revenue was expected from each of several sources:

World Wide Web and Internet. A key part of the business is free information available electronically, with advertising support. Durovsik said some revenue was expected from electronic subscriptions and pay-per-view services, with pricing to be determined in part by testing consumer interest for various free services.

Catalog sales. InteliHealth is launching a direct-mail business with a mailing next month of 500,000 catalogs for allergy- and asthma-related products, such as dust covers and humidifiers. These products may also be sold electronically, and the Web site could provide a source of names for catalog mailings. The catalogs will include Hopkins-approved health tips.

Licensing. InteliHealth says it hopes to license Web health information to other companies that have Web pages that emphasize advertising rather than hard information. A potential example would be supplying pediatric health information to a baby food producer interested in rounding out its own Web page.

Pagers. InteliHealth is negotiating with Panasonic to provide daily health information on pagers that can display text. Sherman said Hopkins' daily health news radio feed, now provided free to more than 1,000 stations, would be boiled down into a daily two-sentence pager message.

Pub Date: 7/11/96

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