Is Web MD the 800 Pound Gorilla of Healthcare Information Providers?

GorillaBy DJ Edgerton

WebMD – sine qua non, in online health information. Over 40 million people enter a WebMD search – every month. US News & World Report called it “the Mall of America of health web sites”. Without WebMD, would there be health information on the internet? Sure… but it’s hard to imagine.

And actually, the Mall of America comparison is apt on several levels. It can be a little overwhelming. And sometimes, a little impersonal. It’s got everything – but can you always find the specific detail that you’re looking for?

Some people think of it as “the 800 pound gorilla in the room” because it’s where everybody goes. And some people think that’s a bad thing. “How can we ever begin to compete with them?” they fret. “They’re the standard. What’s the sense in doing any disease education work at all, when everything’s already out there, and patients just need to go to WebMD to find it?”

Hang on there, Chicken Little. Can you create a new, better, WebMD? No, probably not. But can you put a new spin on useful information? Sure you can.

(And where does WebMD get its authority from, anyway?)

Here’s an example. Abbott launched a couple of weeks ago. Is it an all-encompassing destination that will give you everything you could ask about measuring your cholesterol levels? Nope. But it’s useful, friendly, informative. You could see why a doctor might direct a patient to it for a small snapshot that could help him or her better understand what their triglyceride numbers meant, and why they were important.

Think of WebMD as the encyclopedia, or dictionary, or Jeopardy! of health information. Think of yourself as the brochure, or flash card, or pub quiz. Maybe you can’t be comprehensive, but you can be comprehensible. You can be interesting without being enervating, detailed without being daunting…. Well, you get it.

And as for where WebMDs authority comes from? Well, for starters, they’re a public company. As they say in their boilerplate, “The WebMD Health Network includes WebMD Health, Medscape, MedicineNet, eMedicine, eMedicine Health, RxList and” And if the stat is right that 85% of all waiting rooms have copies of “WebMD: The Magazine” – plus all of those online destinations – yeah. You want to know where this information is coming from.

I have to admit that when we first started tossing this question around, I got excited. I thought I’d play investigative reporter and find out Who Was Really Behind It All. (Blame it on too many Scooby Doo cartoons.) But I didn’t find any Old Man Jenkins behind a rubber mask. Here’s their editorial policy, here’s their editorial staff, here’s their review board, here’s how they denote sponsored content.

So maybe it’s time to stop glaring up at the big behemoth – and start thinking about what we can do. Yes, there’s a massive resource out there. But when was the last time anything on WebMD made you laugh out loud? Made you cry? Gotten you into a conversation with another person?

Just because there’s one big kid on the playground doesn’t necessarily mean he’s a bully. And it doesn’t mean there isn’t enough space for everybody else to play, too.




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