TECH: WebMD, a little curious…

Milt Freudenhiem gets to chat with Marty Wygod, and what he wants to talk about is how WebMD Health “Wants to Go Beyond Information”. WebMD is the old consumer web businesses of WebMD plus the private-labeled consumer sites they run for health plans and employers. Now while you could have (or maybe did) read all about WebMD Health’s strategy on THCB last year (hey the Times is only 6 months late so we’ll be charitable), the weird thing is why it’s being featured.

After all EmDeon, which is the old WebMD’s businesses that comprises the old Envoy claims transaction system and the older Medical Manager practice management system, and the Porex plastics company that was Wygod’s original holding company, still owns most of WebMD Health. Plus it’s vastly bigger. The web business brought in $4 million profit on $45m in revenue last quarter (or an annual run rate of $200m). Pretty decent growth from a $120m business in FY 2004, but not exactly Google-type margins. Meanwhile the real revenue (some $1.2 bn annual run rate) is in the old transaction services and practice management systems. Although the margins there are of course much lower (under 4% compared to 10% on the web side).

Now they say they want to sell off the transaction business and the practice management part. Which leaves them the WebMD Health web business and the plastics company. This is full circle. WebMD was originally a fake web-company. It couldn’t make its core web services work (either technically or as a business), so it took the logical approach of converting its incredible bubble stock price into the acquisition of MedEAmerica, Envoy, Medical Manager and a few other companies that had actual businesses. Now with Web2.0 emerging, and health plans finally deciding that they do give a rats arse about their customers’ online experience, it’s going back to being a web company.

The key issue though is that it’s doing it as an ASP, and it’ll be putting its client health plans’ members’ data on its own servers. That potentially gives it lots of power, which is whey health plans were afraid of it back in the late 1990s and created a fake competitor to it called….(forgot the name, answers on a post card please) Medunite (thanks!) which they later disbanded. Theoretically WebMD could be moving clients between plans as they own the relationship. So it’s an interesting concept, and they have enough tools that they could get it — the consumer eHealth experience — right eventually.

But all the same, 10 years to build a web business that’s $200m in revenue.  Given the amount of cash Marty Wygod already had, it barely seems that all this chopping and changing to come out with a small web company justitfies the brain damage of the last decade. And furthermore, is it really worthy of a NYT exclusive profile?

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