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Health an online moneymaker

While many businesses are looking to the Web to generate revenue, those in the health care space are particularly well-positioned, one study says.

While many businesses are looking to the Web to generate revenue, those in the health care space are particularly well-positioned to take advantage of all that the Internet has to offer, according to a study released today in conjunction with a health conference sponsored by chip giant Intel.

Consumers already are patronizing sites that offer health-related information and products, and will continue to do so, according to the study by Jupiter.

For example, the study predicts that online health and medical advertising will grow to $265 million by 2002, with half of that money coming from direct advertising from pharmaceutical companies to customers.

While most e-commerce dollars to date have gone to sites selling such universal products as books and computers, consumers--especially the majority of Americans tired of getting the bureaucratic runaround from their managed-care networks--are hungry for ways to get more information about health and health care products, according to the study.

"Every household has health/medical issues; therefore, health is a category likely to enjoy portal status," the report concluded.

Many sites, such as iVillage's Better Health, OnHealth, and Ask Dr. Weil have emerged to fulfill the growing need for health information, and many more are on the way. The key to success for these sites, according to the Jupiter study, will be the same as it is in other sectors: utility and community.

The study emphasized that health-related Web sites must take care to be relevant; to introduce topics in plain, non-medical language; and to deliver information that is trustworthy. The sites also must be secure.

Several companies announced new sites and products in conjunction with today's conference. Included were the following:

Medical testing at home
A company that supplies home-testing kits to detect the HIV virus plans to provide a service by which customers can get their test results via the Internet.

Home Access Health Corporation, which sells home-testing kits that allow people to send in blood samples via mail and retrieve results over the phone, already has asked the FDA for permission to release test results over the Net, according to the company.

In addition, the company today announced that it has struck a distribution deal with Better Health to host the service, should the FDA approve it.

The company also is hoping to distribute the test results--and to make counselors available--via the Internet sometime in 1999, said Brian McDonald, spokesman for Home Access Health. It also has applied for a home-based Hepatitis C test.

Net-based tools for doctors
Health care company HBOC announced that it has signed a strategic distribution agreement with Atlanta-based WebMD, a content suite with applications for doctors and consumers.

HBOC will distribute WebMD--which includes an answering service, insurance-verification and management tools, an online library, courses, and personalized news--to health care organizations and doctors throughout the United States.