Health data accord ending

InteliHealth parent, Aetna, buys Hopkins stake in Web site


March 30, 2000|By M. William Salganik | M. William Salganik,SUN STAFF

Johns Hopkins and InteliHealth announced yesterday that they are ending their 4-year-old partnership to provide consumer health information on the Internet.

InteliHealth's parent, Aetna U.S. Healthcare, said it has acquired Hopkins' minority interest in InteliHealth. Terms were not disclosed.

"E-health has changed, and the business opportunities have changed," said Steve Libowitz, director of the office of consumer health information at Hopkins. "We felt we were going in different directions, from a business standpoint."

Since 1996, Hopkins faculty, from the schools of medicine, nursing and public health have been providing information and reviewing material written by InteliHealth. InteliHealth maintains its own World Wide Web site and also sells content to other sites.

Jill Griffiths, a spokeswoman for Aetna U.S. Healthcare, said the managed care insurer wanted to "move to a broader Internet strategy" and "put the Internet at the center of all our business transactions."

Libowitz said of Aetna's plans, "It's not what InteliHealth was at the beginning, and it's not what Hopkins wanted to do."

Both said they are seeking other partners for Internet ventures.

"Hopkins is planning to stay in the online consumer health business as a content provider," said Libowitz, adding that Hopkins is considering different business models and potential partners.

He said Hopkins would announce its plans "as promptly as the right opportunity presents itself."

InteliHealth has been part of Hopkins' efforts to market health information to consumers. Libowitz said his office also prepared the 1,700-page "Johns Hopkins Family Health Book" and a series of mass market paperbacks, including volumes about arthritis, high blood pressure, back pain and allergies.

InteliHealth said in a statement that it expected to announce a deal soon with "one of the nation's leading academic medical institutions, which would anchor expanded medical content on the InteliHealth Web site."

Kenneth Abramowitz, a health care analyst with Sanford C. Bernstein, said the split could be related to Aetna's interest in spinning off InteliHealth as a separate company. Or, he said, "Aetna might want to invest more and make it a bigger company." Hopkins did not put up cash for its share in InteliHealth; it received the share in exchange for "intellectual capital."

Dr. William R. Hersh, chief of medical informatics at Oregon Health Sciences University, said a number of Web sites, including InteliHealth, have been providing health information free to consumers, hoping to make money from advertising or other services. Few, if any, have been profitable, he said, and, "It's not clear that model is sustainable in the long run."

At the same time, Hersh said, some insurers seem interested in combining health information with services for subscribers, such as access to medical records. He said HMOs may feel this is a way to attract younger, healthier members since "people who are older and sicker are less likely to be surfing the Web."

Under the arrangement, Hopkins and InteliHealth will retain the right to the words they have jointly developed -- 2 million to 3 million of them, on thousands of Web pages, according to Libowitz.

However, at the end of this week, the familiar Hopkins dome logo will come off the InteliHealth site. Libowitz said there would be further "stages of debranding" through July, with bylines and Hopkins identifications being removed.

Shares in Aetna Inc., parent of Aetna U.S. Healthcare, dropped $2.25, closing at $53.50.

Abramowitz said the loss was not related to the InteliHealth-Hopkins split, or to a shareholder suit challenging Aetna's recent rejection of a $10 billion takeover offer from Wellpoint Health Networks and ING Groep NV.

"The stock market is still bearish on managed care because consumers are not enamored with managed care companies," Abramowitz said.

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