Emory Report

June 12, 2000

 Volume 52, No. 35

Emory Healthcare enters 'Net venture

By Sylvia Wrobel

After more than six months of discussions and negotiations, the Woodruff Health Sciences Center has taken its first significant step into an Internet-based "e-healthcare" venture. Emory Healthcare has joined a consortium of four other academic health centers in partnership with WebEBM, a start-up company based in Nashville, Tenn.

WebEBM (www.webebm .com) will provide evidence-based clinical guidelines for more than 400 medical conditions that hospitals, health systems, self-insured employers, Internet health care portals, HMOs and others can use to facilitate best-care practices, patient information and education, as well as "connectivity" between patients and physicians.

The guidelines are being assembled and written by designated faculty from Emory, Vanderbilt, Washington Univer-sity (St. Louis), Oregon and Duke. Emory's clinical advisers to the project are William Bornstein, chief quality officer and associate administrator for Emory Hospitals, and Kimberly Rask, assistant professor of medicine and health policy and management. Each consortium member's clinical advisors are responsible for coordinating the authorship of specific guidelines.

WebEBM (the EBM stands for "Evidence-Based Medicine") is not an advertising-supported customer Internet "portal" like drkoop.com or WebMD, but instead is a "business to business" model-organizations licensing the WebEBM product will make it available to physicians and other health care providers and their patients.

Patients referred to the site by their physicians will be able to see both the recommended guidelines used by physicians and an easy-to-read patient/consumer version of the same guideline. It will also be interactive, with tools for patients to report on their understanding of and compliance with the guideline. Other "connectivity" features are planned.

"This is an exciting opportunity because it lets us be part of creating good guidelines that can enhance patient understanding and perhaps contribute to better outcomes," Rask said. "The hope is that these guidelines will provide an easy-to-use and up-to-the minute reference for physicians and patients. And as the evidence mounts or changes, the Internet platform will allow us to update the guidelines almost immediately."

Added Bornstein, "Since there is a mechanism for patients to provide feedback, physicians will be able to compare their patient outcomes with other practices as a way of continually improving care."

Like the other centers, Emory will provide content and editorial oversight. Rask and Bornstein will draw primarily on faculty within Health Sciences to write individual guidelines, with WebEBM providing compensation. Over a period of up to three years, Rask and Bornstein will be looking to sign up faculty authors for as many as 100 guidelines.

After the first round of guidelines is launched, probably in late summer, faculty and staff will have access to them for use in their practice and by their patients. A pilot project using a limited number of guidelines will be launched later this month at Erlanger Medical Center in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Jon Saxton, special assistant for health policy, will oversee negotiations and manage the relationship with WebEBM. Saxton has taken the lead for Health Sciences in recent months in evaluating Internet health care ventures and opportunities.

"The Internet is making it possible for the health sciences center and faculty to leverage the wealth of intellectual capital that otherwise can remain untapped within the institution," said Saxton. "The opportunity presented by the WebEBM model was to partner with other health sciences centers in the attempt to create something of real value for physicians and patients alike, while potentially also bringing some financial return to the institution and to those who contribute to the product."

As part of the agreement, all of the health science centers have stock warrants in WebEBM that will vest over a specified period, assuming they continue to participate in the consortium and in the creation and review of guidelines.

Executive Vice President for Health Affairs Michael Johns, who signed the partnership agreement earlier this spring, is pleased with the progress of this new venture. "From a strategic point of view, this venture looked like a good opportunity for Emory to move into the Internet health venue in a positive way," Johns said.

"If we are lucky, there might be some financial payoff down the road, but our focus is on the product, not the profit," Johns said.

"We have a good team working on this and opportunities for more faculty involvement. I'm pleased with our progress and prospects thus far, and I'm looking forward to seeing the final product and how it is received and utilized."

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