Baylor College of Medicine is taking continuing medical education to the people in a satellite broadcasting venture that debuts this week.
Williams Communications Group, Rockville, Md., has teamed with Baylor to launch the Health Channel, scheduled to start beaming programs over the EchoStar satellite network on Sept. 1.
Baylor projects revenues of more than $25 million over three years. After start-up costs have been amortized, it expects a 20% annual profit margin.
In the venture, Houston-based Baylor provides educational content and CME certification while Williams supplies production and transmission services.
If the channel catches on, Baylor expects to use profits to shore up funding of medical education and research programs.
Subscribers can tune into the channel using 18-inch satellite dishes, included as part of a $99-per-month subscription for individuals.
The Health Channel could transform continuing education by bringing certified courses directly to doctors' homes and offices to complete at leisure, said Baylor's president and chief executive officer, Ralph D. Feigin, M.D., at the channel's unveiling last week in New York.
Baylor's board of trustees approved the satellite business venture as a natural extension of the medical school's educational mission, Feigin said. In 1996 Baylor sponsored CME courses for more than 7,000 doctors.
Many doctors, he said, would welcome a more convenient and economical alternative to attending courses at national and regional medical meetings.
Subscription prices for group practices, clinics and hospitals remain to be determined.
Baylor expects to offer site licenses to health systems and group practices based on the number of viewers per location. Licensing discussions are under way with several health systems, Baylor executives said, but they declined to name the institutions until negotiations are completed.
Baylor did not solicit individual subscribers in advance of the Health Channel's launch. But 5,000 of 16,000 Baylor alumni expressed interest in the service after being told about it, said Robert M. Johnson, vice president for administration at Baylor.
Besides subscription income, the Health Channel is contemplating corporate sponsorship deals that conform with CME rules, which require separation between sponsors and the content of the material, Baylor said. Commercials will not be accepted.
In the future, the Health Channel plans to repackage its programming for distribution via the Internet and CD-ROM. It also plans edited versions for patients and other healthcare professionals.
Consumers already can subscribe to the service, along with 50 or so general interest channels on the EchoStar system, if they're willing to pay the price, Baylor said.
Though consumers are not the target audience, there may be considerable marketing potential to lay people.
"There may be more interest in this among the public than we suspect," said Michael E. DeBakey, M.D., Baylor's chancellor emeritus. "People are interested in health."