WebMD moving from online health information to 'digital front door' for patients

WebMD is making moves to shift from an information website to a health information platform that helps consumers search and schedule appointments with doctors.

The company is teaming up with symplr, a provider data management search platform used by some of the largest health systems in the country, to utilize search engine optimization and health content to drive consumers to a health system’s "digital front door" for provider search and appointment scheduling, the companies said in a press release.

According to the companies, it marks the first solution that allows consumers to go from a WebMD search for health information to scheduling an appointment with a participating provider in a single, EHR-integrated workflow in three clicks.

“This partnership represents a breakthrough patient acquisition strategy. The integration of WebMD’s leading content, which generates new patient demand, with symplr directory’s provider search and scheduling, addresses patient fulfillment needs in a new, compelling offering,” says BJ Schaknowski, CEO of symplr, in a statement.

“Provider organizations will realize increased patient flow and higher utilization using this new, end-to-end digital workflow," he said.

RELATED: WebMD purchases patient educational video maker The Wellness Network

More than 75 million consumers access WebMD each month for health information and to find healthcare professionals to meet their needs.

The symplr directory (formerly Phynd) is a provider data management search platform used by some of the largest health systems in the country. Extending symplr’s provider resources and services and curated provider data to WebMD, including subspecialty, clinical and patient-friendly search terms, health plan participation and direct scheduling in the EHR, makes it easier for consumers to find healthcare providers and book an appointment with an available, in-network provider, the companies said.

With the new offering, consumers will be able to search and schedule appointments with a provider in a single workflow instead of having to check providers’ availability and health plan participation by phone.

Consumers can research conditions at WebMD or Google and get a list of qualified doctors in their local area from the WebMD Care provider directory. With the symplr integration, consumers can see open appointment slots and are guided through symplr to the provider organization’s EHR and into the direct scheduling workflow. They then receive appointment confirmation and other information including clinician address and patient instructions.

Health systems have not previously had the ability to offer health content with real-time, EHR integrated appointment booking, which the WebMD-symplr integration will now support, the companies said.

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“Surveys show that over three-quarters of consumers use the internet for healthcare related-search, and a majority choose a provider based on a strong online presence,” said Ann Bilyew, WebMD’s senior vice president, health and group general manager, provider services, in a statement.

“We see the WebMD-symplr partnership as a game changer, extending advanced provider search and scheduling into consumers’ WebMD experience," Bilyew said.

Health tech companies have been ramping up their focus on creating digital front doors to healthcare, such as digital patient intake from companies like Dexcare, Phreesia and Doctor.com to scheduling access via symplr, ZocDoc and DocASAP and digital diagnosis and triage from Gyant and K Health.

WebMD Health Corp runs a collection of health information products for consumers and healthcare professions. These include the eponymous WebMD as well as Medscape, MedicineNet and eMedicineHealth, among others.

The health information company has been making moves to build its presence among provider clients. It recently acquired The Wellness Network, a maker of patient education videos for use in hospitals and health systems.

This acquisition is one of several announced by WebMD Health Corp. this spring. These included ADDitude, a multichannel content platform specializing in supporting or treating attention deficit hyperactivity disorder; MGP, a U.K.-based publisher targeting healthcare specialists; and PulsePoint, a tech company that uses data to time the delivery of health content or marketing during specific points during care.