Johns Hopkins Gazette: July 22, 1996

Hopkins Is Online
With InteliHealth

Steve Libowitz
Scott Sherman says that recently he has has been sleeping at night like a baby. He wakes every two hours.

It's not crying, though, that stirs him. It's more like tossing and turning, of a good sort. Sherman, an assistant dean at the School of Medicine, oversees the Johns Hopkins Office of Consumer Health Information. Last week, he was among those who announced the formation of InteliHealth, a company created to produce and distribute consumer health information through myriad electronic channels, including the World Wide Web.

U.S. Healthcare is the funding partner, extending up to a $25 million line of credit to InteliHealth in exchange for a majority stock position in the company.

The Hopkins schools of Medicine, Nursing and Public Health, along with the health system, will be responsible for the informational content, lending their names and prestige to the venture. In return, they will be minority stockholders and earn royalties. Faculty will be compensated for their time spent reviewing and editing content.

While InteliHealth is an enormous, far-reaching endeavor-- with its potential for reaching millions of people with health information--educating the public is not new territory for the medical and health institutions.

Over the years, they have produced many well-received consumer health products, such as the Health After 50 newsletter, the Johns Hopkins Health NewsFeed--a 60-second program broadcast daily from Hopkins to radio stations across the country--and "white papers" and books on topics of interest to the general public. They also have been working on a series of general health encyclopedias.

At a time when government support of academic medical centers becomes less certain, Hopkins--along with its peer institutions--has looked for ways to develop unrestricted income. As technology rapidly opens doors to novel production and distribution possibilities, multimedia holds out the promise of new sources of revenue along with far-reaching communication.

And Sherman believes InteliHealth will fulfill that promise.

"Think of InteliHealth as a developer of an extensive, medical multimedia database," he says. "We will slice and dice that information and distribute it in diverse ways for different types of end-users, including our own and other Web sites, major online service providers and media companies."

The Office of Consumer Health Information, directed by Ron Sauder, will work with faculty to develop "a broad base of encyclopedic information," Sherman says. Outside professional writing teams will write drafts for review and revision by various Hopkins faculty teams from the four medical and health divisions, who will have final authority over medical and scientific content.

"The participation of these divisions is absolutely significant, especially given the perspectives of Nursing and Public Health in providing information to the public," Sherman says. "All of our health information ventures involve the four health-related institutions. We think this broad-based input is another factor that will set our business apart from others who are developing similar services."

And there is competition for the fledgling venture, including an alliance of AT&T and the Mayo Clinic, announced the day after InteliHealth's press conference. But such august company doesn't worry Sherman, who says "you have to take AT&T seriously, but there's Coke and Pepsi, there's Hertz and Avis, there's Burger King and McDonalds; there's room for more than one player in the field."

Sherman says, "The reason we settled on InteliHealth was because it has access to a significant line of credit needed to fund this sort of venture, they offered a multiplicity of revenue streams,and also because we were impressed with the consumer marketing background of their management team. This consumer marketing experience is another element that will really set us apart from the pack, particularly on the Web and in other electronic media," Sherman says. "There are a lot of services that are dry, clinical and encyclopedic. Not the kinds of sites that hit you between the eyes."

Much of the initial design effort is being devoted to developing the InteliHealth Web site, which Sherman expects to be launched on Oct.1. When it is up and running, users will be able to search through an array of health information pages, listen online to the radio Health News Feed, view videoclips and pollen maps, and tap into InteliHealth's Health Library, which will incorporate information from the National Institutes of Health and the National Health Council. There will also be learning opportunities on the Web site, including an Exploratorium--an interactive learning center, which will provide a host of entertaining features, such as games, trivia quizzes and a Baby Growth Calculator.

Consumers also will be able to order print publications and catalog products off the site. Users will even be able to e-mail questions to Hopkins experts.

While a Web site is a central distribution method for InteliHealth, Sherman is quick to add that InteliHealth may distribute information via CD, videotapes and electronic newsletters.

"We also will be licensing our content to other Web sites," he says. "For example, a blue jeans company, getting thousands of hits each day, may want to have on its site information on teenage pregnancy or alcohol and drug abuse. We would sell that module to them, perhaps with some level of customization."

InteliHealth will also utilize the emerging technology of pagers. "The new generation of pagers do a lot more than just beep you to return a phone call," Sherman says. "They transmit news and financial information. InteliHealth has a deal with a paging company to include health information, as well."

Already work is being done to distill the Health NewsFeed programs to 200 characters for daily transmission by pagers along with other medical news.

Sherman also sees an untapped potential in cable television. And there's more, including print, which he insists will not be abandoned.

As multidimensional as the InteliHealth project is, Sherman says it is by no means an end, or even a plateau, in the institutions' efforts in consumer health information. And his other activities are not going to slack off any time soon, either. He will continue to run the Office of Corporate Liaison, administer the Conflict of Interest Committee and remain involved in a wide range of commercial and research administration activities.

And then there's InteliHealth, which will be headquartered in Blue Bell, Pa., with an East Baltimore campus office.

"I will be heavily immersed in it for a long time," he says. "Which is great, because it's exciting plowing new ground. But it's also a little unnerving to have a project this visible and to worry about protecting the reputation of the institution. We know how to do that, and we're proud of the print products we've put out in the past. It's the visibility and enormity of the multimedia endeavor which raises the stakes and calls for us to pay even closer attention to accuracy and integrity.

"That's what keeps me busy and awake at nights."

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