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Social media platform launched by WebMD

The new effort expands existing message boards. The site also will allow pharmaceutical companies to sponsor discussions.

By Pamela Lewis Dolan — Posted April 16, 2010

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WebMD Health Corp. has announced the creation of what it calls its new social networking platform.

Dubbed WebMD Health Exchange, its stated aim is to connect consumers with each other and with health experts.

Nan Forte, WebMD executive vice president of consumer services, said the changes are an expansion of existing WebMD communities. The expansion, unveiled in March, will give consumers greater access to experts and allow more flexibility to start discussions and form communities. The new platform also will include an outlet for revenue by allowing third-party sponsorship of particular discussions at the Web site, she said (link).

Communities can be created by anyone, and they can be kept open or restricted to those invited to participate. In the past, WebMD chose the community topics.

Forte said the format will allow specific communities of people with chronic diseases to form, such as those who have multiple illnesses, for example. It also will allow wellness communities to target specific groups, such as women who want to lose baby weight and exchange recipes. Families can create private pages just for family members.

Fifty communities also have been created that will be moderated by experts chosen by WebMD. The experts, who Forte said are chosen for their ability to answer patient questions in a nonprescriptive or diagnostic way, are recruited from both the existing WebMD communities and from the health care organizations and institutions with whom WebMD has a relationship.

Although the designated experts are hand-picked by WebMD, the site encourages other physicians to get involved with the online communities, Forte said. Additional expert-moderated communities could be created if there's a demand for a particular area of discussion.

Third parties, most of which are pharmaceutical companies, can create branded exchanges and pay to sponsor discussions on specific topics.

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