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WebMD CEO Schlanger, ’84: Trustworthiness of Online Health Information is Vital to Company’s Success

WebMD CEO Schlanger, '84: Trustworthiness of Online Health Information is Vital to Company's Success

By Katie Vloet
March 17, 2015

As online health information moves into new and uncharted territory, WebMD CEO David Schlanger said his company's credibility and integrity are more important than ever.

The site's medical content is reviewed by at least three physicians before it is posted; the site doesn't promote off-label use of pharmaceuticals; and ads are clearly delineated from editorial content so that consumers can easily distinguish between the two, said Schlanger, a 1984 Michigan Law graduate. He spoke March 16 to law students at a talk sponsored by the Michigan Health Law Organization and the Office of Development & Alumni Relations.

The goal, he said, is to ensure that WebMD's 70 million unique website visitors per month know that they are receiving the best health information available. As such, the company often is ahead of legislation and other regulations, he noted.

"We take very seriously the credibility of our content," Schlanger said. "Our trustworthiness is really our North Star."

One area in which WebMD has to be particularly careful, he said, is making sure that the company is providing information but not medical advice. With its popular Symptom Checker, for instance, users can find out if their numbness and tingling might be related to carpal tunnel syndrome or a deficiency of Vitamin B12. Ultimately, though, consumers are encouraged to see a physician for treatment.

Physicians haven't always welcomed the idea of patients researching their health issues online, Schlanger said, but that view is changing. In the past, "they didn't want their authority threatened," he said. "Now doctors really embrace the notion that their patients are sophisticated, they come in with information, they understand the disease. So that seven to 10 minutes they have with the patient is much more effective."

While he has worked in the business world for most of his career, Schlanger said that the skillset he gained in law school has helped him to succeed. After law school, he worked on corporate finance and mergers and acquisitions at Latham & Watkins. He then moved to the business side with a job at Medco Containment Services, where he was vice president of acquisitions. He followed that with a stint at Merck as executive director of business development, then more than six years as senior vice president for corporate development at Synetic Inc.—a company that was part of Medical Manager Corp., with which WebMD merged.

In 2001, he began working at WebMD, first as senior vice president for corporate development and later for strategic development as well. In 2013, Schlanger was named CEO of the company, a network that consists of owned and operated sites and apps for consumers, and Medscape, its site for health care professionals.

He encouraged the students to let their educations at Michigan Law form the foundation for a broad range of career options. "The skills you're learning here will serve you well, whatever you do," he said. "I'm the perfect example that you should be open to a lot of different career options. Just be open to those forks in the road."

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