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By David Mendosa

Last Update: November 1, 2001

Bigger doesn't always mean better. But it's fair to call the most popular Web sites in each field the best. That's because the Web is the world's most democratic institution with usage that is the sum of millions of free individual choices.

WebMD is the favorite general health Web site

WebMD has been the Goliath of general health Web sites for more than a year now. The site reaches 18 to 20 million people every month.

Cyber Dialogue, a marketing and technology services company, tells me that they recently asked a poll of "e-Health Consumers" which health sites they use. Fully 26% said they used WebMD, considerably more than Yahool Health, which came in second with 21%, or AOL Health, third with 14%. Besides, WebMD essentially provides AOL Health's content.

Americans also say that WebMD is their favorite general health Web site, according to a poll last year by Roper Starch Worldwide and Harris Interactive. Number 2 is

It helps that WebMD Corp. in Elmwood Park, New Jersey, is well funded. One of the few publicly traded Web sites (as HLTH on the NASDAQ National Market), the company placed its initial public offering in February 1999 before the dotcom market crashed last year.

Since then it has merged with several other companies, including OnHealth and Sapient Health Network, both of which were good enough to warrant my review in previous columns here. WebMD also has partners for health information including DNA Sciences, HealthSouth, and Medtronic, a leader in medical technology, which earlier this year bought MiniMed, the top insulin pump manufacturer.

"Most health content sites learned the hard way that pure content delivery requires an advertising model, which means multichannel branding and promotion in the 'real' world," says Mark Bard, Cyber Dialogue's director of health practice. "WebMD clearly pulled away from everyone else when it came to partnerships and offline marketing-which made a big impact in 2001 (and beyond)."

A site this good with general health information should offer a lot to people with diabetes, and WebMD does. The diabetes area is WebMD - Diabetes. "Diabetes is one of our top 10 search terms on the site," says Dr. Charlotte Grayson, WebMD's senior medical editor.

She says that one of the big attractions for people with diabetes who visit the site is its news area. "We follow all diabetes research and analyze it."

Their analysis impresses me. Too often diabetes Web sites just copy the press releases announcing the latest and greatest treatment. But when I visited WebMD just before writing this column, the site featured a hard-hitting  analysis of a study that suggested the addition of biotin to chromium picolinate could help us control our blood glucose. An expert reviewer said the study didn't prove much of anything, noting that the company that makes the product both sponsored the study and carried it out.

"Not only are you going to get the most up-to-date news and analysis and access to a very active community, but we also have some interactive tools that are specifically for people with diabetes," Dr. Grayson says. "We have information from so many different sources, including live events and special initiatives, that you will want to come back and see what else we have here on WebMD."

The site also works together with the American Diabetes Association. Both WebMD and the ADA have newsletters that promote each other's site. The two sites also work together for Diabetes Awareness Month each November, Dr. Grayson says. WebMD plans to do a foot clinic in partnership with the ADA this November.

WebMD's future plans include a lot more articles from another content provider, The Cleveland Clinic. "In the next few months we will be putting together a basic guide to diabetes that is 30 plus articles looking at every aspect of diabetes."

It looks like WebMD will just keep on getting bigger. And better. 

The American Diabetes Association originally published this article on its Web site as one of my “About the Internet” columns.

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