E-HEALTH: News and Notes from the Week on the Web
"In the brave new world of Internet communication, almost anything that can be reduced to words is possible," including free online doctor visits, the Washington Post reported Sunday. About 100 medical professionals have contracted with AmericasDoctor.com since it launched about a year ago. The site now attracts about 3,000 people per day to its 24-hour "Ask-the-Doc" feature. While the site prints a disclaimer that the chat sessions should not be construed as doctor visits, some still ask "whether doctor- consumer conversations on the Web are akin to casual discussions at a cocktail party, or if they're more like traditional telephone consultations." Alissa Spielberg, a lawyer who teaches at Harvard and Tufts medical schools, said, "There may be some skepticism when (Web sites) say, 'This is not the practice of medicine, but please give your Visa card number to us here.' I think those disclaimers would be rendered useless pretty quick." The Post notes that certainly not all the dialogue on Web sites could be suppressed, however. But as far as AmericasDoctor.com, the service acts as a simple marketing tool to attract first-time users. Most of the company's revenue comes from contracts with hospital systems that pay to "have their services displayed exclusively when a visitor registers" as a resident of a particular region (Brown, 8/22).
The Baltimore Business Journal reports that at the end of July, the site signed up the University of California-Irvine Medical Center as its first sponsor on the West Coast. The next week, it signed up sponsors in Virginia, Illinois, Washington, Texas, Oklahoma, Ohio and California, giving it 92 sponsors. The sponsorship fee varies based on the region's size (Werner, 8/16 issue).
Around the Horn, E-Style
- Dr. Nancy Snyderman, director of Drkoop.com and a regular contributor to ABC's "Good Morning America," is returning $53,000 to Drkoop.com Inc. after violating SEC rules by selling shares in the company too soon after its initial public offering. Snyderman's husband bought 1,650 shares for $9 and sold them for $41.27 per share one month later, a violation of federal law (Merle, AP/San Diego Union-Tribune, 8/21).
- Drugstore.com announced that founder Jed Smith has left to pursue another venture, and Melinda French Gates, wife of Microsoft Corp. Chair Bill Gates, has been named to the company's board. Smith said, "I have some very exciting and creative things in the works that in some ways are bigger than Drugstore.com, and Drugstore.com is pretty darn big." Gates' appointment marks her first as a company director, after working for Microsoft for nine years. Drugstore.com also announced it named Martin Grass, CEO of Rite Aid Corp., as a director (Berner, Wall Street Journal, 8/23).
- More.com, which just began selling drugs online last week, announced an agreement with distributor Bergen Brunswig Corp.. The site now offers about 20,000 nonprescription drugs, but will begin selling prescription items by the end of the year, to be shipped by Bergen. Customers would also have the option of picking up prescriptions at 2,000 pharmacies affiliated with the wholesaler (Berner, Wall Street Journal, 8/24).
- Medical Mutual of Ohio is "launching a new Internet subsidiary, SaveWell.com, to market health-related products at a discount," the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports. President and COO Ben Zelman said, "What we're doing is bringing group health purchasing and managed care power to the individual for health care-related products and services" -- for a $52 annual fee. The company plans to target Medicare beneficiaries with no prescription drug coverage (Pledger, 8/25).