Dr. John Whyte, Chief Medical Officer of WebMD and Medscape.

Empowering Patients with Trustworthy Information: Dr. Whyte on Leadership, Effective Communication, and Telemedicine

WebMD is one of the largest health information platforms in the United States. Championing the motto better information creates better health, the company’s Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Dr. John Whyte, emphasizes addressing gaps in effective communication and strategies to empower the public with trustworthy health information, which is especially critical in the year of COVID-19. Dr. Whyte is a board-certified internist who completed an internal medicine residency at Duke University Medical Center and received a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree in Health Policy and Management at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Prior to arriving in Washington D.C., Dr. Whyte was a health services research fellow at Stanford University and an attending physician in the Department of Medicine.

Perspectives from the Past

Talking about his journey in the field of healthcare policy, leadership and communication, Dr. Whyte shared that his public health education opened his mind to thinking beyond the individual patient and toward populations and the global community. He emphasized: “we are not safe unless we are all safe”. The dual perspective of centering the patient as well as the community in addressing health issues has helped him become a better physician. His experiences influenced his belief that health policy and education are intertwined and that health policy impacts both personal health and public health.

Effective Communication and Artificial Intelligence

Dr. Whyte stated that a large portion of consumers who search on WebMD are also the biggest utilizers of healthcare services. Talking about his customer demographic, he mentioned that a significant portion of WedMD’s readers are women who are educated, affluent, and white. Nonetheless, the sheer magnitude of the people who read the website and browse information on a myriad of health-related conditions gives WedMD an incredible opportunity to understand the true needs of people represented from around the country. Given the stigma that society places on certain health conditions, such as sexually-transmitted infections, WedMD also offers information on local testing centers and one-on-one chats with doctors. As such, Dr. Whyte called for healthcare platforms to 1) focus on culturally appropriate messaging, tailored to their readers and consumers and 2) invest in effective communication workflow with their audiences.

Dr. John Whyte, Chief Medical Officer of WebMD and Medscape (Right), was virtually interviewed by Professor Barry Bloom, the Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Research Professor of Public Health and the former Dean of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (Left) for the Voices in Leadership web series for the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Telemedicine and Healthcare Inequities

As science and technology are advancing quickly, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Whyte has seen that people are starting to take more control of the care they receive and the process of treatment and recovery by using technology. To cater to these needs, healthcare systems should focus on empowering patients and move from a provider-centric to a patient-centric system at all care delivery levels. One such successful avenue is telemedicine, which can help with remote diagnoses and treatments by means of telecommunications and technology. This can drastically reduce patient wait times and the need to travel every time a patient might need to see a provider. Dr. Whyte is optimistic that, with the right payment structures that can accommodate virtual and home-based care and organized health delivery services, all patients can benefit from telehealth. Telemedicine has made care more convenient, which is evident by the growth of this industry over the past year.

Empowering Patients: An Opportunity for Discussion

Patients often look up symptoms and bring information about their symptoms to their doctors’ visits; Dr. Whyte appeals to medical teams to consider these situations as opportunities for more productive conversations, as this can shift experiences toward a shared decision-making framework, rather than a provider-centric one. He also affirmed that WebMD understands its consumer base and works backwards from patient experiences to make the website more robust.

Vision and Inspiration

Dr. Whyte continues to be an incredible health influencer, leader and communicator. He is committed to empowering patients and healthcare professionals with trustworthy data through WebMD and Medscape. His vision to cater to the healthcare needs of a diverse audience, with the help of innovative, inclusive and efficient communication strategies, reflects positively on the growth of the company and inspires current and future generations of public health leaders.

Voices in Leadership webcast series enhances leadership, connecting high-profile leaders with the Harvard School of Public Health community. hsph.me/voices