NBC and GE Healthcare team up on vision for patient engagement

NBC and GE Healthcare team up on vision for patient engagement

Note: In addition to healthcare news coverage, WTN Media presents the annual Digital Healthcare Conference, May 7-8, 2008.
A partnership between GE Healthcare and NBC Universal is part of GE’s vision to get patients more engaged in their healthcare through a combination of IT and online content.
GE Healthcare has the clinical experience and relationships. NBC Universal has the content and consumer relationships. Between the two companies, those involved in the partnership hope to find synergies that can provide healthcare consumers with a better overall experience and better outcomes.
“The media knows how to get people engaged, and that is the important part,” explained Vishal Wanchoo, CEO of GE Healthcare Integrated IT Solutions.
The multi-stage vision will be rolled out over the course of several years and includes disparate pieces. Already, a pilot project put information about acid reflux into the hands of patients while working through the doctor-patient relationship. NBC Universal created patient education tools and connected them to workflows inside electronic medical records systems — that’s where GE comes into play — so that physicians were notified that information was available.
NBC Universal is interested in testing the same concept with other information as part of a first stage that focuses on the connection between physicians and patients.


“With the acid reflux test, we were able to very closely monitor [engagement] and understand where the behaviors change,” said Beth Comstock, former president of NBC Universal Integrated Media, now chief marketing officer at GE. “We were surprised us at how engaged the patient became and how much they followed their physician’s recommended treatment. Those results were very encouraging to us.”
Comstock and Brandon Savage, chief medical officer for GE Healthcare IT, explained to WTN in a series of exclusive interviews how the companies think healthcare IT can adapt in the near future to meet patient needs. GE believes that in the future people will manage their healthcare interactively similar to the way they now manage bank accounts online, and the company wants to be prepared to provide solutions in this emerging new healthcare market. The overall concept for the future includes multiple sources of information being combined, eventually reaching into the home through sensors and monitoring systems as well.
Health is one of the most popular topics on NBC’s digital platforms, even compared to entertainment, Comstock said. Consumers are turning to the Internet for anything from weight-loss programs such as “The Biggest Loser” to disease information.
Research shows potential in this market, but also a distance yet to go. About 12 percent of U.S. online consumers with medical conditions used an online health forum or discussion board in the last 12 months, according to Forrester research. But JupiterResearch found that as many as 46 percent of online users overall said they were interested in viewing online health video.
Several recent acquisitions contribute to GE and NBC’s case for the health content market. In May 2006, NBC bought iVillage, a women-oriented content site. Besides trying out crossovers between iVillage and the Today Show, the company also brought together iVillage and other recent acquisitions to create Your Total Health, an online portal including health content and community participation. Your Total Health has moved up to become a top-15 healthcare web site in ComScore rankings, according to GE.
“It’s a nice entry point to learn more about consumer issues and tools we can give them,” Comstock said.
Initially the overall GE vision will single out specific conditions, as in the acid-reflux pilot, but the idea is to branch out into a variety of topics such as wellness, pregnancy, obesity, diabetes, and other conditions, Comstock said.
It could also be beneficial to create more paths for information to flow the other way.


“For doctors, it’s the patient engagement that’s most relevant,” Savage said. “If doctors had more complete information from patients, the result would be increased physician efficiency.”
Savage pointed to looming trends such as pay for performance, which would cause more of a physician’s compensation to depend on patient compliance with treatment programs. Patients being more engaged in their healthcare, he said, could lead to better patient outcomes and compliance.
By bringing in a variety of personalized information, the program could also aid in the overall vision that GE Healthcare labels early health, a term that refers to early detection of illness and preventative medicine.
“If you consider that the average consumer interacts with the healthcare system two hours a year, the most important elements of early health will span beyond those brief episodes of care,” Savage said.
What remains to be developed is a definitive business case and a firmer valuation of the market space. Savage noted that analysts have pegged the value of the consumer health IT market overall at between $6 billion and $40 billion.
According to JupiterResearch, overall consumer spending on video delivered via the Internet totaled just $185 million in 2007. That’s consumer spending — much of online video is ad-supported, leading to the question of how the consumer-focused side of GE Healthcare Digital Solutions will support itself.
“There are advertising dollars and subscription services that can support this, and there are other commercial models that may emerge,” Comstock said. “If it’s just one side and just an eyeball play, I don’t think it will be successful.”
Overall revenue, from GE Healthcare’s perspective, could be derived from enhanced medical-record functions, clinical interventional studies, sponsorships, support tools, ecosystem involvement across healthcare constituents, and digital media verticals and channels.