WebMD picks up Healthwise to build out patient engagement solutions, expand its footprint to 650 organizations

Online healthcare information provider WebMD acquired the operating assets of Healthwise to bolster its patient and member engagement tools.

Healthwise's assets including content, products, technology, client relationships and certain trademarks as well as most of its team will fold into WebMD Ignite, a brand underneath the WebMD umbrella that offers tech solutions to providers and health plans.

The combined organization will now serve more than 650 healthcare organizations with patient education and content resources, including more than 50% of hospitals in the U.S. and 85% of the top 20 payers, according to executives.

Financial details of the acquisition were not disclosed. 

Healthwise, a nonprofit organization, has been developing patient engagement products, evidence-based health education and other technology and services, for the past 48 years. It was named Best in KLAS for patient engagement by KLAS Research this year.

The Healthwise deal builds on WebMD's acquisition of Krames, a clinical patient education platform, back in 2020, according to Ann Bilyew, executive vice president, health, and president of healthcare solutions group at Internet Brands, which bought WebMD for $2.8 billion in 2017.

"We're bringing together Healthwise with Krames to create the undisputed market leader in patient and member education. Healthwise has a very strong presence in the payer market and a strong presence in the ambulatory market. Krames historically had a very strong presence in the acute care market. By bringing these two market leaders together, we will have a significant presence really across the healthcare landscape," Bilyew said in an interview. "We'll be in 650 health systems, 250 payer organizations and we'll have two-thirds of the nation's hospitals using our content and 85% of the top 20 payers using our content to communicate with their patients and their members. We've created a dominant position here."

WebMD Health Network has a huge reach in the healthcare industry as its brands include WebMD Health, Medscape, WebMD Ignite (encompassing Krames, The Wellness Network and Mercury Healthcare), Jobson Healthcare Information, MediQuality, Frontline, Vitals Consumer Services, Aptus Health, PulsePoint, MedicineNet, eMedicineHealth, RxList, OnHealth, Medscape Education and other owned WebMD sites.

WebMD reports 85 million unique visitors a month, and 95% of physicians are members of Medscape, Bilyew said in an interview back in October.

"The level of investment required today on technology to remain relevant in this market is significant," Bilyew noted.

The addition of Healthwise's business increases WebMD's "already significant scale in content, technology, data and AI," she said.

The company is focused on using artificial intelligence and other tech investments to develop more personalized content and educational resources for patients and members, she noted.

"In order to do that, you have to have significant amounts of content, because we want to reflect that patient's unique clinical circumstances along with that patient's unique preferences in terms of language, in terms of how they access their content, in terms of cadence of content," she said. "When you think about creating a deeply personalized, almost 1:1 experience, you need massive amounts of content and massive amounts of data. And, then you need to be able to deliver that information through various formats, whether it's text, or through a patient portal or email or other forms. You need to have video, audio, you need to have medical illustrations. You need to do all of that within the rubric of social determinants and DEI. When you start to unpack it, you realize just how much content is required. Then you start to realize how much investment is required to be able to do that effectively and deliver all that information effectively."

As healthcare has become more digitally enabled, patients and health plan members are expecting a more seamless, personalized experience, similar to what they find when shopping online.

Healthcare organizations are now trying to borrow a page from consumer-focused companies to create a more personalized experience.

"We're really seeing now a lot of healthcare organizations saying we need to learn from some of these other industries that do this well," Bilyew said. "There's specific constraints in healthcare around privacy, so it's within that rubric that organizations are exploring, 'How do we maintain those bright lines of privacy while also creating a personal experience for patients?'"

Providers and payers are leaning on tech and services companies like WebMD to help deliver more personalized content and education. "We're focused on bringing all those data assets together so that we can help health systems and payers identify the right audiences, segment the right audiences and reach them with the right messaging through the right channel in a way that results in some degree of engagement in those moments of decision."

For nearly 50 years, Healthwise has developed the "highest quality" education content and solutions, said Adam Husney, M.D., CEO of Healthwise. "We now have an opportunity to extend our mission through the broader solutions and delivery platforms offered by WebMD Ignite. This transaction will have an even greater impact on health consumers by uniting the potential of two leading organizations in the patient education space," Husney said.

Last year, WebMD Ignite teamed up with privacy platform Freshpaint to help healthcare organizations stay in compliance with privacy regulations. 

Freshpaint was founded in 2019 by veterans of the web analytics industry. The startup aims to bridge the gap between patient privacy and digital marketing by ensuring sensitive data are never shared with tools that aren’t HIPAA-compliant. The partnership with WebMD Ignite promotes compliance for hospitals, health systems and health plans through a privacy-first approach to using Google Analytics, Google Ads, Facebook Ads and other marketing tools that rely on web-tracking technologies, according to the companies.