EUROPE: Web Health Care Services Growing
Six months ago, Europe had only a "handful of 'ehealth' companies trying to sell health products or provide information for consumers over the web," but that number has increased to at least 40 sites, the Economist reports. Because most health care in European countries is publicly supported and many facilities are state-owned, there is "much less private health care business." Moreover, the existing ehealth sites are devoted to single countries. But if medical Web business can "overcome cultural and legal barriers, [it] could change the shape of health care delivery across the continent," the Economist suggests. Although creating an ehealth industry "will not be easy," Planet Medica has launched consumer "portals" in Britain, France and Germany. In the next few months, the company expects to be in Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium and Italy. The site provides information about medical conditions and drugs, self-assessment questionnaires and a bulletin board for users to "swap medical experiences." Planet Medica CEO Eric Souetre noted that the service does not offer diagnoses or prescriptions online. The site is "intended to complement rather than to supplant traditional doctor-patient relations."
Making A Fast Euro?
As medical practice varies considerably across Europe, ehealth content providers must "do more than change the language" of their sites to create cross-border appeal. NetDoktor, which began two years ago in Denmark and has since expanded to six other countries, "alters its presentation of tricky issues such as abortion according to local sensitivities." But even tame medical issues need to be tailored to fit local needs, according to Mikael Vissing, the firm's chief executive. For example, lyme disease is treated with different drugs in Britain, Denmark and Germany. Rob Zegelaar, a venture capitalist at Atlas Venture, "reckons that such national variations will make it hard for American ehealth companies, such as Healtheon/WebMD, to thrive on their own in Europe." Jon Santemma of investment bank Warburg Dillon Read notes that if European Internet firms can demonstrate the potential to save money, "they could win lots of state-funded business." Such extra revenues "will be welcome" since European investors will "inevitably start asking themselves the same questions as their American counterparts: how will these firms make money?" If American ehealth firms, some of which are losing interest in drug advertising and corporate sponsorship as revenue sources, are encountering financial difficulties, then firms in Europe -- where most patients receive medicines free-of-charge at the point of service and strict regulation controls on drug sales and advertising -- will struggle even more. The Economist reports that the supply of new health care Web sites "is a sign that the Internet has inspired Europe's entrepreneurs." But the "doubt is whether patients are inspired too." Raised on state-supplied health care, "many will harbor the suspicion that Web doctors are foisting drugs and treatment on them to make a fast euro" (McCarthy, 3/25).