Prognosis for success

Two years ago, as if alerted by some cosmic X-ray of cyberspace, a local physician detected a pivotal trend: Not only had the Internet transmuted consumer preference for business transactions, it had spawned a do-it-yourself culture that regarded the Web as Chief Expert of Everything.

For example, changing attitudes spurred patients to bypass physicians’ offices, securing advice from medical-related Web sites instead. Realizing that such information could be inaccurate or misused without professional guidance, Dr. Thomas Lehner deemed it critical to provide a service to offer patients online, real-time chats with doctors and nurses about specific health care needs.

The result was DocByWeb Ltd., and although a majority of dot-com start-ups have died or are in intensive care, Lehner, a family physician and founder of Wadsworth-Rittman Area Family Practice, says his Web-based company is the picture of health.

“That’s because we don’t think of ourselves as a dot-com, and we don’t run our business like one,” says Lehner, DocByWeb CEO and medical director. “We’re more of a traditional company, and the Internet is just a way to deliver our information.”

Lehner says that DocByWeb’s 1999 launch was bolstered by an invincible business plan he developed with Phillip Canfora, company co-founder and president.

“Our business plan was an enormous process, and we’ve taken it slow, being very meticulous about every detail,” says Canfora, a marketing and business management professional.

The site offers free information videos, bulletin boards and information on clinical trials. Live Web chats with physicians and nurses are available for a fee.

Canfora explains that DocByWeb was formed as a professional services holding company employing medical professionals (currently 16 on the payroll) who provide immediate online access to “personalized” health and wellness information. Using “chat” and “push” technology, a DocByWeb staff member obtains detailed information from the patient and provides advice specific to that query.

Anatomy graphics, multimedia files and patient information handouts are also provided to clarify understanding. Other offerings include a Medical Resource Library, online lectures by experts, discussion groups, bulletin boards, a medical professional resource locator and hundreds of linked Web sites.

DocByWeb went live in July 2000 and provides live chats four hours a day, but will soon add more physicians to expand that service to 24/7, says David A. Roth, vice president of marketing and communications. The company’s principles estimate that with that service, patient queries will skyrocket to about 5,000 per day.

But the site’s business-to-consumer services will comprise only 16 percent of its market.

“When DocByWeb is included as an employee health benefit, the online service has the ability to save self-insured employers of a typical 1,000-person company up to $250,000 per year in health care expenses by eliminating unnecessary employee visits to doctor’s offices,” Canfora explains. “So, our primary focus is providing online health advisory services at discounted rates via group contracts with self-insured employers and health plan providers.”

Recently, DocByWeb sealed a deal with Emerald Health Network Inc., a Cleveland-based preferred provider. This new charter client will open doors for DocByWeb to serve several self-insured employers.

Lehner says DocByWeb will eventually debut as a companion service, in which licensed counselors and behavioral therapists will provide online behavioral health services. Long-term plans include other “ByWeb” specialties, such as, and

“In the meantime, we’re concentrating on generating an income and return for our investors,” Canfora says, revealing that the company’s initial $1.7 million private placement offering will be followed by a second round currently being structured. “We expect slow growth through the middle of next year. Then, once we’ve refined our model, we’ll expand exponentially.” How to reach: DocByWeb Ltd., (330) 753-5899

Victoria Reynolds is a contributing editor to SBN Magazine.