Health 2.0 in Hungary? Yes, We Can!

Gábor Gyarmati has been running health care web sites in Hungary for longer than you might imagine. I suspect that many of you reading this don’t know much about Hungary and those of you who went to high school in America probably can’t find it on the map (stop it—you cynical Brit!), but what’s going on there is very interesting. Gábor will be presenting at Health 2.0 Europe on April 6–7 in Paris, but I did an IM interview with him last week to give you a preview.

Matthew Holt says: Gabor, you’ve been working in online health for several years doing market research and running consumer and physician websites. Can you tell me how you got started?

Gábor says: We have started our health and pharmaceutical research company, Szinapszis in 1998 that was the first of its kind in Hungary. We collected a lot of information about our market, patients, physicians, about their health and prescription choices. We found about 5 years ago that a “new media”, the Internet, appeared as a communication tool in healthcare and pharma marketing but at that time it was extremely weak, only a few physicians used it and less than 10 percent of the patients but we saw a very strong and fast increase in it. As our other companies did marketing communication projects, we knew that we have to this new tool as well although it is not known enough.

Matthew: So in the  early days was it easy to get pharmaceutical companies in Hungary to sponsor your research? Or did everyone think you were crazy?

Gábor: We made all this research for ourselves about the market, and at that time we could use the results only for PR for our company. The first research on this topic was sold only after the 2nd year (the 2nd wave) when we could show the change of the physicians attitude about the Internet. They did not think we were crazy, just told us “it was too early for it, this market was not mature enough, this was not the US so we should wait several more years for it and that was the same year when a young Hungarian medical student, Bertalan Mesko already was running his Scienceroll blog! No one knew about it including me 🙂

Matthew: Actually I did! Found him in 2006! (And of course Berci will be at Health 2.0 Europe too

Gábor says: yes I know, he was quite well known abroad while not here in Hungary

Matthew: Fast forward to today, and you have a pretty mixed business. Can you describe the breadth of what you are doing now

Gábor: We found all the trends showing that the Internet is more and more important as a communication tool. Now we run quite a mix of Internet tools, portals, sites webbeteg.hu was the first. We started the planning in May 2007 and launched in 2008.

Matthew: Tell us what the response has been to the site.

Gábor says: We marketed it only for the physicians. Although our target group are the patients but we made it strictly based on the evidence based medicine; that’s why it became very popular amongst the physicians and they told to their patients to visit the site,

Matthew: Great way to market

Gábor says: we helped them (the MDs) to communicate all the things about the diseases they had (and have) no time to explain to their patients so we market ourselves as a partner of the physician and it works! Now we have about 1.000.000 visits each month, over 600.000 UV per month

Matthew: That’s pretty impressive given that there are only 10 million people in Hungary! So what kind of information and activity is on the site?

Gábor: First it was only the content and no Web 2.0. We planned and built in Health 2.0 tools but no one used it in the first months. So first it was a disease-oriented content, tried to cover all the health problems, that’s why we built the portal for more than 6 months. A few months after the launch we tried to find patients to blog and to participate in forums and it was quite difficult but as it succeeded with one patient, it has started to grow. We as well made small applications like BMI test, doctor-finder by town and disease, hospital and pharmacy database. It became more and more popular and we could move the patients not only to read but to write the content of webbeteg. The most popular tool is the “ask the doctor” section. We have a large group of specialists answering the questions covering all the important field. We have to answer in 48 hours and we can do it. It is totally free so we have more than 2.000 answered questions each month. The symptom checker is also popular for it is very interactive

Matthew: You also have Kamaszpanasz for teenagers and the physicians’ site Drportal.

Gábor: Yes, they are connected with each other. Furthermore we run a women’s portal fokuszbanano.hu (made for Bayer-Schering) that is a health and lifestyle site for women using (or only in the target group) contraceptives and you can read the answers for all the questions asked there on webbeteg too.

drportal is totally different it is a “locked” community of physicians, only they can reach it after registration and authentication. There are about 22.000 active physicians in Hungary we launched drportal in last May started the first registration campaign in  late October and now we have over 4.000 registered members on it

Matthew: Are they the ones answering questions on webbeteg? Or is that just a special pre-selected group?

Gábor: No, we have a small group of them contracted for answering—you can find them here:

Matthew: So can you explain how you make money from these sites, which I guess will mean explaining the rules about pharmaceutical advertising in Hungary

Gábor: We still spend much more money building them than we make from but I hope that will change. On Kamaszpanasz we sold the urological and gynecological content to one of the biggest Hungarian pharma co, Richter. That is only for image building for them because it is not allowed to advertise or even mention any specific drug in Hungary as it is working in other European countries. On Webbeteg there are a few disease area sponsored by pharma—hypertonia by Sanofi-Aventis, and it is working, because educating the patients means that more and more of the will go to their doctors with “small” hearth problems that can be serious, so that is like a patient screening.

Matthew: So essentially your business goal is to make money from pharma and other companies underwriting the sites–even thought they cannot advertise specific drugs.

Gábor: Yes, it is still true: but it is very important for them to find the “hiding” patients who would not go to the doctor without reading about their problems and there are a lot of them.

Matthew: How does the business model for drportal work?

Gábor says: drportal’s business model is working better for it is a site only for doctors we can communicate about drugs, so pharma companies are sponsoring it more than webbeteg. They are the main decision makers on prescriptions, so the digital marketing or e-marketing is more and more important for them. We are just starting e-detailing on drportal. We have a weekly newsletter that can be sponsored as well. If you are a doctor and register on drportal you can choose your landing page depending you professional area  so you will reach exactly what you are most interested in. That is important for the pharma as well, because its communication can be more effective but drportal is independent, so no pharma company can “buy” an area exclusively and they can not give the content only the ads

Matthew: Are doctors discussing clinical cases with each other on drportal?

Gábor: Yes they are starting to but to tell the truth we want much more communication between them  but we would like to move them so the content is not only professional. There are lifestyle parts like wine and gastronomy, sailing, art, etc.  and just started the talks with some US based applications to build in drportal, webbeteg and kamaszpanasz to improve our Health 2.0 activities. We have to connect the off-line communication of our other companies with all our online activities because they are much more effective together like direct mail, telemarketing combined with eDM and online content.

Matthew: So you’ve made a great deal of progress in recent years.

Gábor: Yes, but we are still at the very beginning of it

Matthew: What are you plans for the next few years?

Gábor: We find that the main problem is the language barrier and it is true for all the Eastern and Central European countries. Only a very few of us read English so we have to make all the content in our languages. I do think that we can build a model in Hungary that can be as a pilot launching similar sites in other countries around us but for that we should educate our costumers first about digital marketing.

Matthew: Are there similar sites in other countries in Eastern Europe?

Gábor: No, although they have about the same Internet penetration than in Hungary there are no big sites for patients like ours. I know less about the physicians” portals so it is possible that they exist but I am not sure, in Hungary we would like to change our model a bit, to concentrate more on the applications, gadgets than we did in the past with the content only.

Matthew: So finally, it is true that the Hungarian Health 2.0 scene is fueled by a special type of Brandy?

Gábor: I hope not, it would not be healthy at all. 🙂  And I prefer wine if can choose

Matthew: OK, but you gave me a special bottle that has a US Presidential connection!

Gábor: Sure, I felt it funny because our special brandy, the Hungarian Barack Pálinka is made of 100% apricot (Barack) distilled. And we met in your great SF Health 2.0 conference just a few weeks before the US Presidential Election. So I could not miss that joke

Matthew: I left it in our supply room and it vanished!

Gábor: But as you have lost it I will repeat this present in Paris…

Matthew: I’ll have to make sure I drink it immediately when you give it to me!  Thanks for taking part in this IM interview! We’re really looking forward to seeing you in Paris. It’s great to see that there’s so much activity and innovation in countries that we don’t hear much about!

Gábor: Thank you Matthew it was a pleasure for me to talk about it!

1 reply »

  1. I “met” @Gaborgy on Twitter a few months ago when he provided his perspective on the importance of the HONCode in emerging Health 2.0 markets like Hungary. Thanks so much for a longer introduction to his work — looking forward to learning more in Paris.