WebMD, Medscape to take on app prescribing, discoverability

By Brian Dolan
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WebMD MobileIf WebMD has its way, in a few years time it will be clear that one of the biggest announcements to come out of HIMSS 2013 was its partnership with Qualcomm Life. In an interview with MobiHealthNews, WebMD's EVP & CTO Bill Pence explained that the initial partnership sees WebMD's consumer sites and apps serving as a place to collect data from the health devices and services that connect to Qualcomm Life's 2net platform. (Some 220 partner companies now partner with Qualcomm Life.) Pence said that WebMD's mobile health plans go well beyond this partnership though.

"Tools and apps have been a focus at WebMD recently," Pence said at HIMSS13 in New Orleans this week. "As we look at the evolution of wireless health and mobile apps, sensors are becoming increasingly important. Initially, consumer will use them on their own but soon these will be more tethered to physicians."

Qualcomm Life's Vice President of Global Strategy and Market Development Don Jones said that WebMD could shake up the patient-physician relationship, just as it did in the 1990s when patients began using WebMD to research their own health conditions and bring in printouts to share with their doctors.

"That same thing will happen again," Jones said, "that same phenomenon will effectively repeat, but only this time patients will show up with their own data."

Pence noted that WebMD's mobile apps now have more than 16 million downloads. The company continues to rollout new mobile apps -- just this week it announced the launch of the WebMD Pregnancy app. The newest addition joins a surprisingly short list of mobile app offerings from the company: its flagship WebMD Mobile app, the WebMD Baby app, and the WebMD Pain Coach app. While it's clear the company sees opportunities in topic specific apps, WebMD is setting its sights much higher.

"Moving forward we can package any number of wireless health services under the WebMD brand," Pence said. "We can educate people what wireless health is outside of fitness. For example, working with Qualcomm and [companies in the 2net ecosystem], we can suggest to consumers the top 12 best in class devices and apps for diabetes. We could enable them to buy it within the apps through a simple, seamless onboard process. Then we could help them gain insights from those devices and set their own triggers and thresholds and alerts based on their own data."

Pence expects that WebMD's flagship mobile app will have a curated mobile health store built right into it. While WebMD has a strong consumer user base, it also has a number of physician-facing properties with Medscape. Pence believes that the consumer-facing WebMD and physician-facing Medscape will come together to enable physician recommendations or prescriptions of mobile apps and wireless health devices.

"That will be the first connectivity solution to allow consumers and Medscape doctors to connect," Pence said. "That platform will include a lot of different use cases, including the ability to prescribe apps."

Pence said that mobile health has been "a cottage industry for a while" and WebMD's contribution will not only be exposing it to a larger audience but also taking the pain out of it for consumers by layering in additional insights and actionable information alongside the data.

"This will accelerate the prescribing of apps -- and remember -- I define apps as any combination of hardware, software and pharmaceutical." Jones said. "It will be consumer-driven, not top-down."

MobiHealthNews coverage of the HIMSS13 event in New Orleans is sponsored by AirStrip Technologies.

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