20:33 PM

Healthline: The search for pharma online gold

. . .drug makers seeking drug takers

By Tom Foremski, Silicon Valley Watcher


Googling for healthcare info can make you sick, says Healthline's CEO West Shell. What he means is that you get millions of pages and you don't know which ones to pick. That's where he hopes Healthline, a recently launched beta health care search engine, can help.

It uses doctors, rather than just servers, to help create a dictionary that translates medical terms into common words, and doctors rank the quality of the medical information the search engine links to.

Healthline also offers "health maps" that graphically represent information, such as treatment and symptoms, that's linked to a specific condition. And it has quite a few other ways to slide through--and understand--a lot of important medical information.

"These days, the patient has to educate themselves about treatment options because the doctor patient load has increased tremendously. And doctors love to have an educated patient that understands their condition," says Mr Shell.

(Healthline has a patent on the process of a doctor "prescribing" online information to a patient.)

Steve Case, the AOL founder now building Revolution, which is intended to be a formidable portfolio of healthcare companies, wanted to acquire Healthline, but Mr Shell says it's way too early to sell. "It feels like it is just 1997, there's still a long way to go."

He's been here before. From his bio:

Prior to joining Healthline [April 2005], West served as CEO and President of Sapias... From 1997 to 2001, as chairman and CEO of Netcentives, West created one of the most powerful e-commerce companies, managing over 50 million consumer relationships. . .West successfully led an IPO and, during his tenure, raised more than $150 million in private and public funds from leading investors and strategic partners. . .

Mr West points out that there is a lot of money coming into the health information sector, and much more in the future. "There is just $300m from pharma's $600m advertising spend going online, and that is projected to grow to more than $2bn within two years."

The drug companies are enthused because they can better target potential drug takers by attaching their marketing messages to the health search query. And adverts on search pages convert much better than a scattershot TV or print magazine ad campaign.

The problem is that there isn't enough inventory of online content to satisfy pharma and other advertisers. Which should be an opportunity for Healthline because it has a fair amount of its own easy-to-understand content created by hundreds of doctors.

Owning your content is a smart thing to do, because you never know when you might run smack dab into a robot.txt file that bars your spider from indexing a web site--and this will begin to happen more and more as content increases in value.

Content owners will start glueing their content to their sites, especially since there is going to be a lot of money to be made from all the pharma gold, plus many others pushing their way into this market.

Content is going to be where the value is, and less so in the index. Because indexes are created by servers and content is created by experts; one is cheap and plentiful and the other is expensive and limited.

About Healthline: http://www.healthline.com/aboutus.jsp