Shared Experiences and Emotions Are Driving the New Wave of Health Media

Remedy shifted from databases to emotional connections

Health Central combines feature stories and interactive pieces on chronic illnesses with detailed health information. HealthCentral
Headshot of Sami Main

In 1996, WebMD joined the digital space and carved a unique path for health media. Anyone and everyone could look up their symptoms and self-diagnose their illnesses.

This marked a movement from print to digital for health media brands, as WebMD was mostly sharing information previously recorded in medical journals and pamphlets.

Two years earlier, in 1994, Remedy Health Media launched with a similar mission. But as WebMD took off, thanks in part to being mentioned in early episodes of The Office (Dwight used it to determine why Michael was feeling crummy), Remedy Health needed to pivot to stay relevant.

Instead of having a database mentality like the WebMDs of the world, Remedy decided to connect people battling similar chronic illnesses, and it now distinguishes itself with emotional storytelling.

Its flagship brand, HealthCentral, provides readers and advertisers with emotional and well-researched documentary-style stories. Readers can scroll through huge, high-resolution images and videos while reading about the personal treatment or recovery journeys of real people who’ve had an illness for (oftentimes) decades.

This patient with multiple myeloma shared his story with HealthCentral's audience.

“Sometimes we don’t realize our neighbors have the most amazing stories,” said Jim Curtis, president of advertising, strategy and operations at Remedy Health, who spent six years as a director at WebMD. “People wanted and needed this.”

Visitors to HealthCentral are in “survival mode,” Curtis added.

Other sites that are more like databases or general lifestyle blogs don’t have the same emotional community, according to Curtis. “We provide information they can use to manage an illness they’ve been living with for years in a highly beautiful and engaging format,” he said.

Vulnerability paired with verified information reviewed by a doctor or a medical institution is what draws over 35 million unique visitors each month. (WebMD gets about 74 million monthly uniques, by comparison.)

HealthCentral regularly sees a 30 percent completion rate on its 40-minute videos, and 77 percent of the minutes spent on the site are from patients living with health conditions. That makes HealthCentral’s audience a highly targeted market for pharmaceutical advertisers interested in making an emotional connection. Most pharmaceutical companies target their ads on sites like Remedy Health’s by condition.

“Patients are visiting more than one source to get their health information these days,” Curtis said. “There’s a huge responsibility to provide accurate and correct health information, but by building a trusted name in the industry, brands can be seen as an advocate for patients.”

Curtis is already looking to the next evolution of health media which, thanks to wearable technology, has already arrived. As WebMD led the shift from print to digital, health media will need to continue to experiment with new formats in order to keep up.

“With more and more personalization, people will get health information they didn’t even know they needed,” he said. “Boutique sites like ours will provide a higher-quality experience for a more unique audience.”

@samimain Sami Main is social editor for Adweek, where she posts Adweek content onto social platforms and looks for creative ways to communicate what's new.