Online Physicians Groups Form Alliance

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America's largest Internet community of doctors, Physicians' Online Inc., is hoping that its new alliance with Berlin-based Health Online Service multimedica (HOS) will lead to a sharing of ideas between doctors on both sides of the Atlantic and eventually new marketing opportunities.


While both Web sites offer a range of services, the main value of the partnership is expected to come from Physicians' Online's discussion groups, in which physicians post questions related to medical topics or patient cases and receive responses from online colleagues.


Physicians' Online, Tarrytown, NY, said that 170,000 verified physicians have visited its site at www.po.com since the beginning of the year and that physician discussion is among the site's most popular features. In the past 15 months, 125,000 messages on 17,000 topics have been posted on messages boards in the physician discussion area, said David A. Danar, vice president of online medical information. Of the 17,000 message topics, 15,000 were medical-related, he said, noting that there also are general information message boards.


The company expects that its members will welcome the fresh perspective of German colleagues.


"The fundamental basis for combining the two companies is to expand and extend the diverse group of experiences that physicians share all over the world and hopefully improve health care," said Paul Hansen, senior vice president at Physicians' Online.


While officials on both sides of the agreement are playing up the potential for a more fruitful exchange of ideas in discussion groups once doctors of different backgrounds begin to communicate with one another, the partnership poses new marketing opportunities. In addition to offering advertisers the chance to reach 170,000 U.S. physicians, once HOS members start to take advantage of the discussion areas, Physicians' Online will be able to offer advertisers a chance to reach both U.S. and German physicians. Also, the company has the technology to target advertising so an advertiser can create banner ads in German that will only appear on the screens of German physicians who enter the discussion area.


As the discussion area is part of Physicians' Online's site, all revenue from advertising in that area will go to Physicians' Online regardless of what percentage of the audience initially accesses the program through HOS multimedica.


While Physicians' Online is just now starting to discuss the future opportunities with potential advertisers, Hansen noted that three years ago, a year after Physicians' Online was founded, company officials studying marketing options found interest on the part of potential advertisers in the possibility of advertising to a global customer base. At the time, however, the infrastructure in other countries wasn't significant enough to warrant forming meaningful partnerships.


HOS offers its member base -- expected to top 20,000 by the end of the year -- the opportunity to pose questions to a council of experts made up of more than 70 well-known scientists and clinicians. However, it doesn't have an open forum in which physicians can freely ask questions of one another.


"I have been aware of Physicians' Online for some time and I have always admired their ability to build an online community," said HOS president and CEO Alexander Broich. "With a possibility of building up a global community, I could not think of a better partner."


Although doctors would have to participate in the discussions with U.S. physicians in English, Broich didn't expect language to be a problem as many Germans speak English, particularly doctors.


Physicians' Online also offers its members access to medical databases, daily medical news and a job placement service. HOS offers medical-related publications written exclusively for the site, in addition to its panel of experts.

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