launches Q&A site for health

Faith Merino · October 7, 2010 · Short URL:

But the site has stirred controversy over its use of experts and brand marketers to answer questions

A new website launched Thursday with the aim of providing an interactive question & answer platform for Web users’ health questions.  The twist?  A lot of the answers are provided by marketers.  The website,, was created by a team of big names and companies, including Jeff Arnold, who previously founded WebMD; Dr. Mehmet Oz of “The Dr. Oz Show;” Harpo Productions; Sony Pictures Television; and several others. offers a list of health topics through which Web users can browse and submit their own questions.  Answers will be provided by experts, including Dr. Oz, and organizations, like AARP, the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, the Cleveland Clinic, the American Red Cross, Johns Hopkins, and the National Academy of Sports Medicine.  But alongside those experts and health organizations will be companies like Dove, Colgate-Palmolive, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, and Walgreen, among others.  The corporate sponsors are paying between $1 million and $7 million.

“Sharecare would be remiss to exclude the significant contribution in expertise provided by brands that have invested billions of dollars into legitimate research that each and every one of us have benefited from at some point in our lives,” said Jeff Arnold via email.  “Sharecare is transparent about brands' contributions, distinguishing their content from other sources with their names and logos."

To make sure that users know who is providing their health advice, companies like Dove and Walgreen will label their responses with their logos, so that users can differentiate between their posts and those of objective experts.  But what about marketers attempting to push their products?  For example, one question asked: “Can I shave my legs daily?” To which Dove responded, “it's OK to shave your legs every day, but if daily shaving causes skin irritation (such as razor burn or ingrown hairs) you should shave every few days to give your skin time to heal.  Dove Beauty Bar cleanses as it protects and protects as it cleanses.” (Nice segue).

Paul Ewing, senior director for patient marketing at the United States primary-care business unit of Pfizer in New York, told the New York Times that Pfizer, a drug company, would provide answers to questions “in the areas of fibromyalgia and smoking cessation” but “not around any products we offer.”

Jeff Arnold also noted to the New York Times that in earlier tests of the website, “the brand answers were read as much as the expert answers.”

As the founder of WebMD, Arnold knows that health and wellness is a big Internet market.  Of the 212.6 million people who accessed the Internet in the month of August, 96.6 million, or 45.5%, looked up health information, according to comScore. is the leading health information website, with 25.7 unique monthly users, followed by WebMD with 23.3 million uniques.

“Yes, we are a retail place to go to, but we are also a brand trusted for 109 years,” said Christine Kubisztal, director of media services for Walgreen, adding that people are looking to “consume health care online in a much more user-friendly way.”

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