Executive perspectives: Cavan Redmond

Paul Tunnah interviews Cavan Redmond


pharmaphorum speaks with Cavan Redmond, CEO of leading online health information services provider WebMD, to hear more about its activities, understand where he see the digital healthcare space heading and what lessons can be learned for pharma.

Health has been a popular topic on the internet since its very earliest days, with research showing that around 80% of web users search for information relating to it online, a figure that has been remarkably consistent over the last 10 years1. It is therefore no surprise that the number of channels providing health and wellness information has grown exponentially over this period.

Astride them sits WebMD, the self-labelled ‘leading provider of health information services, serving consumers, physicians, other healthcare professionals, employers and health plans’ and at its helm, since May 2012, stands Chief Exec Cavan Redmond. The term ‘leading provider’ is not just an idle claim either – those familiar with WebMD may know of the www.webmd.com website directed towards consumers, or the physician health information portal Medscape, but the company boasts a broader array of channels for consumers and healthcare professionals, which also include the drug index website www.rxlist.com and numerous others2. In total, the WebMD network receives over 100 million visits every month, making it the number one online destination for health information.


“In total, the WebMD network receives over 100 million visits every month…”


Whilst the focus of WebMD is currently directed more towards healthcare providers and consumers, it is clear from our discussion that its activities hold some lessons for pharma and, perhaps, some future collaborative opportunities.

Empowered patients and caregivers drive the information revolution

Speaking with Redmond, he recognises that WebMD must provide more than just good information to meet the on-going needs of its readers and commercial partners. As a veteran of the pharma industry, with experience spanning both consumer products and biopharmaceuticals, he sees that this information has to translate into improved efficiency in order to deliver real value for its users.

Defining the opportunity here, Redmond observes healthcare providers and patients being significantly impacted and, in many ways, disenfranchised by current market challenges. “The financial crisis and ageing populations have forced healthcare systems to look at how they spend money and make best use of current assets, which forces them to search out information,” he states, before adding that “increasingly empowered patients never stop seeking information to arm themselves with before seeking medical advice.”

At its core therefore, Redmond sees WebMD as being in a “unique position to link patients and healthcare providers, to give them a rich experience of being able to understand diseases better or understand information that is relevant to the decisions they have to make.” In other words, helping consumers and physicians make better decisions, quicker.

Doing this well comes at a cost though – WebMD has been investing heavily in innovative content and technology for more than ten years. From a technological standpoint, ensuring seamless delivery of this massive amount of information means that WebMD must combine cutting edge search technology with efficient health data publication, curation and delivery to maintain its position as the leading destination.


“…increasingly empowered patients never stop seeking information to arm themselves with before seeking medical advice.”


Accessibility, efficiency and accuracy are key to trust

The challenge is in being able to not only provide the right depth and breadth of information, but also delivering it quickly, in the right way and, most importantly, accurately. “WebMD has to be able to provide real time, physician-reviewed information that’s unique for the user and that answers their question,” Redmond clarifies before going on to elaborate on the quality aspect by confirming that “our model is to use the best available information out there, editorialise it for the audience and then make it available.”


It is a task that comes with significant investment in qualified editorial resource, with WebMD employing both internal and freelance medically qualified writers, in addition to independent editors who ensure quality control over everything it publishes. Even on the consumer side of the business, disease information is clearly accompanied by the relevant qualified reviewers name and medical credentials along with a link to their biography.

However, making it available is about more than just having a user friendly website – increasingly WebMD’s audience are using mobile devices to access information on the move and it needs to be just as accessible this way. The upshot of getting it right across all digital channels is the claim from Redmond that “when a health question or diagnosis is typed into a search engine, around 75% of the time the user will end up on a WebMD network site and find the information they are looking for.” This serves to highlight why there are no shortcuts when it comes to quality. “When patients go and see their doctor, they often print out a search they have done on WebMD or email it over in advance, citing us as the source,” using it as a common point of reference for the consultation, he explains.

It is in these situations that Redmond sees being a trusted site as making a big difference and a key differentiator versus the majority of other channels, not just in the short-term but also as part of a virtuous circle moving forwards. As he puts it, “there are a lot of health data sites on the internet that do not get anywhere near the same traffic volume, because their reliability does not allow them to attract the best writers and editors”.


“When patients go and see their doctor, they often print out a search they have done on WebMD or email it over in advance…”


Moving beyond passive data into proactive management of wellness

Looking to the future, Redmond is passionate about continuing to develop the offering beyond purely provision of information and WebMD has already made some significant strides forward here.

For example, a recent project conducted with Reckitt Benckiser explored the real needs of consumers during flu season. One of the surprise conclusions was that there was a real need for information around prevention, not just in terms of which preventative medicines and vitamins to take, but also on locations where they were most needed. “We are now able to predict with a very high rate of accuracy when cough, cold and flu is breaking out on a geographic basis in the United States and then provide solutions for those consumers,” confirms Redmond, clearly excited by the prospects for this type of service.

He is more downbeat about the possibility of WebMD providing a direct conduit between medical professionals and patients when it comes to treatment decisions, at least in the short term. “The combination of video consultation coupled with direct patient monitoring would be required and I don’t think the technology is there yet to be able to do it universally,” admits Redmond. However, he does see more of a role for the pharma industry to play in the online health conversation.

“There is more that can be done for patient education. Clearly, if you are a pharmaceutical company you have very strict rules and regulations on what you can communicate, which are appropriate, but the consumer information provided does not match with how patients learn. I believe there is space in the marketplace for helping educate patients on both the benefits and the risks of drug products, along with a better understanding of how the particular product is going to help them.”


“…there is space in the marketplace for helping educate patients on both the benefits and the risks of drug products…”


The implication is clear – despite patients being increasingly well informed about their condition, clear information around drug products is often lacking. If this communication gap could be somehow bridged using online channels such as WebMD there could be clear benefits on all sides in areas such as medicines adherence. For Redmond, it all comes back to “how you engage caregivers and patients so that you get the right diagnosis, the right treatment and the right product at the right time,” with a role for all healthcare stakeholders to play in delivering against that.

Looking at what WedMD has achieved, some clear lessons emerge for pharma. If you want to use digital to engage with healthcare providers and patients be prepared to invest extensively in the right technology for speed and accessibility, the right support team to ensure good, accurate content and be in it for the long haul as building trust takes time.

But investing in this space is almost unavoidable for any organisation involved in healthcare. As Redmond neatly sums up, “we are seeing a profound change in how people look for information and how healthcare is administered. Technology is going to intertwine in its delivery in the same way it is already intertwined in every other aspect of our lives. That’s the exciting part.”


1. Pew Internet, Health Statistics, November 2012.

2. WebMD, Our Services, accessed December 2012.

This interview was conducted during the FT Global Pharmaceutical and Biotechnology Conference 2012 and pharmaphorum wishes to acknowledge the support provided by the Financial Times.




About the interviewee:

Cavan M. Redmond is WebMD’s Chief Executive Officer and has served in this position since May 31, 2012. He is also a member of WebMD’s Board of Directors. Redmond has more than 20 years of healthcare experience encompassing a broad range of global healthcare businesses, including biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, consumer healthcare and infant nutritionals. Redmond has a proven track record in identifying and leveraging new revenue opportunities, driving efficiency and establishing sustainable growth platforms.

Prior to joining WebMD, Redmond was Group President, Animal Health, Consumer Healthcare and Corporate Strategy at Pfizer Inc., the world’s largest research-based pharmaceutical company. Redmond was responsible for two diverse businesses while leading Pfizer’s enterprise-wide Strategy, R&amp,D Portfolio Management and Analysis, Global Commercial Operations and Continuous Improvement. He joined Pfizer via the acquisition of Wyeth, where he previously served as the first Executive Vice President and General Manager of Wyeth’s high-growth BioPharma Business Unit.

Redmond earned a Master of Administrative Science from The Johns Hopkins University, where he also completed a post-graduate fellowship in organizational change management, he also earned a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Maryland.

For more information about WebMD, visit either www.webmd.com or the corporate site www.wbmd.com.

How can pharma best engage in the online healthcare conversation?