How PubMed and WebMD showed the way in digital healthcare


Many people associate the digitisation of the healthcare industry with companies such as Practo, HealthTap and Zocdoc. Little do they know that the seeds of digitisation in the healthcare industry were planted much before the founders of these companies had graduated from high school.

It was in the mid-nineties when the digital healthcare space first started showing signs of life. Healthcare education was the first segment which embraced digitisation, when the PubMed system was offered to the public for free in June 1997. Almost at the same time, came WebMD. While PubMed provided a search engine accessing primarily the MEDLINE database of references and abstracts on life sciences and bio-medical topics, WebMD started as a health information services website, publishing content on health and healthcare topics, pharmacy information, information on drugs, blogs by physicians on specific topics, and provided a place to store personal medical information.


Initially, the main focus of WebMD was on the healthcare providers rather than the patients, giving the right direction to the wheel of evolution. The focal point of the healthcare industry became the centre of attraction as educating them was imperative. WebMD identified this need and catered to it. Hammering the right nails at the right time is the reason behind the success of WebMD. At present, WebMD has 107 million unique visitors per month and is the most visited healthcare site.

With the dawn of the 21th century, the need to exploit the benefits of the internet increased. It was time to use the internet in the best way possible -- by not only providing education through it but also building a platform for interaction, discussion and job search. Taking a cue from the West, innovations started taking happening in the East. Two companies rose – DXY in China and M3 in Japan.

Let us first shed some light on Lilac Garden Biomedical Science and Technology Network, aka 'DXY.CN'. Established in mid-2000, DXY has devoted itself towards providing a specialised life science platform for medical professionals. It built an online community for physicians, healthcare professionals, pharmacies and facilities.


DXY amalgamated the technology with user need and voila, the result has been phenomenal. The Chinese DXY.CN now entertains over 3.2 million members, making it one of the largest physicians' online community worldwide. It has a blog, a conference site, a pharmacy channel, bio-medical business information platform and covers more than 100 medical specialties and offers thousands of jobs. The Chinese have always been famous for stuffing features in their products and DXY was just the beginning.

While DXY was taking these momentous steps in China, a little further to the east, Japanese player, M3 Inc., had already been established under the service name of So-net, with Sony Communications Network Corporation, a supplier of network-related services, as the largest stockholder.

In the last quarter of the year 2000, websites such as WebMD had already gained popularity. It was the right time to make the world witness another unique concept. Living up to the technological reputation of Japan, the company launched a separate product by the name 'MR-Kun'. MR-Kun enabled the doctors to stay up-to-date with the latest medicines. The industry had adopted a unique way of communicating with the doctors. It was the time when accessing medical information online was becoming increasingly important.


MR-Kun was an integrated solution which enabled consistent, repeated delivery of pharmaceutical products and disease information to busy doctors. Online content, which appropriately reflected the marketing strategy of individual products, were directly delivered to the targeted doctors. Not limited to just one-way broadcast of information, MR-Kun also provided a channel to receive questions and feedback from doctors, enabling mutual communication to strengthen relations between companies and doctors.

M3 opened the gates of the digital world to doctors, thus providing them not only with reliable information but also a platform for advertising, clinical trial enrolment, direct communication between doctors and pharma companies, along with facilities for job search. It was everything at once for the doctors and the wheel started turning at a significant speed. At present, M3 Group operates in the US, Asia and Europe with more than 1 million physician members globally.

The common notion that healthcare stakeholders were not early adopters of technology is thus debunked here. It must be noted that even when internet companies were falling like ninepins during the dotcom bubble burst, WebMD stood firm, a testimony to the fact that the healthcare industry was certainly not tech-averse.


Time has a huge role to play in the success and failure of initiatives within industries. It was a time when Facebook had not come into existence and the mobile wave was still a few years away. The fact that the healthcare sector realised that digital was the way forward was indeed commendable and paved the way for future endeavours.

Nipun Goyal is co-founder of Curofy, a networking app for doctors.

Like this Column? Sign up for our daily newsletter to get our top reports.


Sign up for Newsletter

Select your Newsletter frequency