WebMD CEO talks new Medscape Consult app, patient portals, international expansion

By Jonah Comstock
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MedscapeWebMD's Medscape team is working on a new clinical reference app called Medscape Consult that will include an option for doctors to "crowdsource" clinical advice from their colleagues. CEO David Schlanger announced the app at the company's annual stockholder meeting, where he also spoke about plans for international expansion and a renewed focus on the company's private portal division, which hired a new CEO in July.

"Coming soon from Medscape is another important tool for our healthcare professionals called Medscape Consult," Schlanger said in his prepared remarks after the conclusion of the formal meeting. "And that’s going to be a really important clinical tool for our physicians that’s going to include concise clinical reference a doctor can use at the point of care, but even more importantly it’s going to allow doctors to do something they haven’t been able to do before, and that’s really crowdsource clinical questions to their medical colleagues and really rely on the community of physicians to help them answer questions."

WebMD's plans for international expansion are mostly focused on Medscape, the company's provider-facing division. Schlanger noted that the company already has about 1.5 million physician users outside the United States and has partnerships in both China and Japan. A recently-opened sales office in London will help to continue that push.

"We really believe there are significant opportunities here," Schlanger said. "The pharmaceutical industry has very substantial budgets to target physicians outside the United States with both educational programs and promotional programs and we see those budgets as an opportunity for us to grow."

He also said the company is "exploring opportunities" to expand WebMD's consumer business to international markets as well, possibly starting with India.

Finally, Schlanger spoke about WebMD's health services business, which includes its mobile and web-based patient portals, telephonic health coaching, and biometric screenings.

"We view health services as an opportunity for us, both to grow it with our existing client base of large corporate employers and health plans, but also to leverage these tools in other markets," he said. "As health systems began to take on financial risk and have a need to monitor patients beyond the exam room and beyond physical locations, we believe these tools can be very powerful. Despite that market opportunity, this business has been growing in the mid-single digit range. We’re not happy with that performance."

WebMD made some management changes to its health services business in the hopes of improving that growth rate, including hiring a new CEO, Ben Slocum, for the division  in July. Schlanger said he expects Slocum's team to make significant changes, which will start to become apparent in the 2017 sales cycle, which begins midway through 2016.

"Healthcare is the last industry that has not adopted digital technology in any major way to help deliver its services," Schlanger said in his concluding thoughts. "And it’s becoming challenging for physicians and consumers to actually manage care without those digital tools. I think as those digital tools start becoming important and becoming adopted, WebMD and Medscape can be important players in taking care to the next level, taking it out of the exam room and helping physicians and patients who want to proactively manage care."

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