In the early years of WebMD, the site's founder Jeff Arnold had a staff of 60 and only $75,000 in annual revenue. By 2001, the company employed more than 5,000 and had almost $1 billion in annual revenue. Since then Arnold has mostly stayed away from healthcare, but was busy acquiring and building a little site called HowStuffWorks.com into a $250 million acquisition target for Discovery Communications.
At the Health 2.0 conference in San Francisco this month, Arnold officially launched Sharecare, which he described as the "humble host" platform for Health 2.0 services and applications. That includes mobile apps.
"If I'm a Health 2.0 company with an app, I can plug it into Sharecare, yes," Arnold said onstage during his keynote demo.
Why would a Health 2.0 startup have an interest in working with Sharecare? Well, its partners for one: Oprah Winfrey's Harpo Productions, Dr. Mehmet Oz (the host of The Dr. Oz Show), Sony Pictures Television, and Discovery Communications.
Sharecare's interactive question and answer platform allows people to "ask, learn and act upon" more than 100,000 questions about health and wellness (and growing). Sharecare offers various expert answers from hospitals, physicians, non-profits, healthcare companies and also health consumers. Sharecare is much more than questions and answers -- Arnold demonstrated a wide range of applications and services through the platform, including future plans for one-on-one video consultations between patients and physicians. Sharecare is currently piloting those video consultations with physicians in Atlanta, Georgia.
Arnold told Health 2.0 attendees that Sharecare was also designed with mobile devices, particularly the Apple iPad in mind: "No Flash," he said.
In a short interview following his keynote presentation, Arnold shared his forward-looking mobile strategy with MobiHealthNews: "We don't see a difference between mobile apps and the mobile Web," Arnold said. "We want Sharecare to work on your device whether you use an iPhone, iPad, BlackBerry or whatever."
That's not to say Sharecare won't create mobile apps: "Making mobile apps is an important part of the overall strategy and one we are pursuing," Arnold told MobiHealthNews in an email following the event. "We work to make the site mobile friendly (no flash, h264 video, etc), [but] we will build both an XHTML mobile version as well as native mobile apps as we move forward."
During the interview Arnold said that one of Sharecare's key challenges is vetting apps for its platform: "Our biggest challenge is the vetting process," Arnold said. "iTunes and other AppStores have a real challenge of determining what gets approved. We have a challenge of making sure we maintain a high bar for apps on our platform."
Arnold's team at Sharecare is currently working to define what should be included in Sharecare's API and the company expects to make the API available to developers next year.