The American Medical Association is leaping into the e-health world full steam.
Last month, the AMA announced that it expects to have its informational Web site, which will compete with the likes of drkoop.com and WebMD, up and running early next year. The site will operate under the name Medem, which is short for medical empowerment.
The AMA site will be co-sponsored by several national medical societies, including the American Academy of Opthamology; the American Academy of Pediatrics; the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology; the American College of Gynecology and Obstetrics; the American Psychiatric Association; and >the American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons. An additional 24 societies have expressed interest and are expected to sign on, says Medem interim CEO Edward Fotsch, M.D.
Fotsch says that Medem will stand out from the competition because its content will be superior.
"If I'm a doctor and my own academy is saying, 'we stand by this information'--and it's because of my faith in that society that I'm even a member in the first place--then I'm going to trust their clinical information," he says.
The site, which will be an independent entity, will be made up of two branches: the for-profit Internet company Medem, and MedemE, a not-for-profit organization wholly owned by the participating societies. MedemE will provide the content and editorial direction for Medem. Advertising and sponsorship will be accepted, but Fotsch stresses certain advertising, such as tobacco, never will be accepted, there will be no product endorsement, and a distinction between advertising and content will be made clear to the user at all times.
Drkoop.com was under criticism earlier this fall for not revealing that founder C. Everett Koop, M.D., received a commission for products sold on the site. Koop has since stopped accepting such commissions.
Fotsch says advertising and sponsorship will support the site, but outside investors eventually will be brought in. Drkoop.com raised $84 million when it went public in July, and iVillage, which operates the BetterHealth site, raised $88 million in its March initial public offering. CBS bought a 35% equity in MedScape for $150 million, and WebMD will receive $220 million over five years from DuPont.
Each participating society is developing template Web sites that individual physicians can personalize. Physicians will be able to add practice-relevant clinical content to their sites on a daily basis and offer links to Medem's other resources. Physicians who agree to have sponsors on their site will receive the services for free; those who refuse sponsorship will pay a $70 monthly fee.
Patients will be able to have secure e-mail exchanges with their physicians and schedule appointments through the physician's Medem site. If the patient surfs through the Medem site, a point-and-click icon will allow them to return to their personal physician's home page at any time. Patients can also sign up for medical broadcasts if they want regular updates about certain conditions or diseases.
"What makes people trust information is the source," Fotsch says. "The AMA and the others have a fair amount of trust, but no one has as much trust as the individual doctor. The entire strategy of (this project) has been to provide the best information in the world, and make it available through the physicians' own portal (or Web site)."
Fotsch acknowledges medical societies can be slow-moving but says in this case they have "pushed the pedal to the metal to make this happen. And the only reason they have is if they don't, their members and their members' patients will be getting information from someone other than them. This is a battle for the heart and soul of the American healthcare consumer."
Physicians, for their part, will be more comfortable turning to their specialty societies for e-health services than putting their name on information obtained "from a company that was founded nine months ago," he says.
Robert Musacchio, the AMA's senior vice president of publishing and business services, says the site is a natural extension of the association's mission.
"We're trying to empower consumers to be better informed and empower their physicians to be better practitioners by putting out there highly credible, peer-reviewed content that plays to both physicians and patients," he says.