It’s not uncommon for healthcare service providers (e.g., telemedicine) and healthcare product vendors (e.g., DMEs) to partner or contract with other third-party healthcare portals/websites.  There are a myriad of websites that attract potential patients who are researching symptoms, conditions, providers, medications, tests, and healthcare-related products (e.g., WebMD.com or Healthline.com).  HVG is seeing arrangements where healthcare service providers or sellers of healthcare products are purchasing web traffic from other websites.  The primary metric is a “click-thru,” which is the process of a website visitor clicking on a web advertisement or a link that directs them to another website or landing page.  The digital media world prices this marketing/advertising activity by what’s called a cost-per-click (CPC).  However, the federal healthcare laws preclude healthcare providers from paying for leads.  So, how can such an arrangement be structured in a compliant manner?

Web traffic that originates on a healthcare portal/website and is directed (a click-thru) to the website of, say, a telemedicine provider is typically anonymous.  That website visitor lands on the telemedicine provider’s website, but no personal information is exposed to the provider. It’s HVG’s opinion that this “anonymous web traffic” has the character of an “unqualified lead,” which can be legally purchased on a per-unit basis. Market rates (i.e., CPC) exist for certain keywords. CPC can vary depending on several factors, such as the type of ad, the platform, the industry, the location, the quality score, the bid strategy, and the competition. Generally, ads that appear on search engines have a higher CPC than ads that appear on websites or social media.  For example, the current CPC for the term “runny nose” might be $.90.  This would equate to the FMV for an unqualified lead.

It’s my opinion that once the anonymous website visitor lands on the website of the provider or DME seller, it’s their efforts that convert that unqualified lead into a qualified lead.  Not every website visitor, who may be a Medicare patient, converts to an actual patient.  That website visitor’s “user experience” on that site may drive them to purchase a Covid test, schedule a telemedicine appointment, or verify their insurance benefits.