RealTime IT News

Online Healthcare Tug-O-War

This week has seen a whirlwind of activity in the online healthcare patch. First, MillenniumHealth did some grandstanding for the cameras when the firm went out of its way to publicize a tender offer it made for struggling drkoop.com . Instead of discussing the deal over a cup of tea, Millennium's spokespeople made a beeline for the nearest reporter. Poor drkoop.com called the announcement "highly premature," but without much wiggle room to speak of.

Now, MillenniumHealth will be forced to share the spotlight with another bidder. On Tuesday, privately-held Undertherapy.com tossed its hat into the ring with an undisclosed buyout offer for drkoop.com. The word is that Undertherapy has already made an offer that was initially turned down, and this is the second go-around for the mysterious buyer.

Judging by the overwhelming preoccupation for free publicity, making their respective bids as public as possible, MillenniumHealth and Undertherapy look like two peas in a pod. Despite the dot-com moniker, Undertherapy.com has no Web presence to speak of, claiming its site will be up and running sometime later this year. Officials would say little about the company, save that it was funded by a group of deep-pockets intent on developing wireless applications for the Internet.

On news of the second bailout offer, shares of drkoop.com soared 30% to nearly two bucks. That follows last week's 50% moonshot after MillenniumHealth initially made headlines with its own offer. If this keeps up, drkoop might be able to saddle retail investors with a secondary offering and wait this storm out. But seriously, it's questionable whether drkoop will entertain either suitor, because quite frankly, the ailing health care Web site is desperately holding out for something better.

Despite the company's financial dire straits, drkoop still has some friends in high places. Foremost on the dot-com's abbreviated wish list is America Online . The Internet service provider already owns a sizable stake in drkoop and has some semblance of a working relationship with the company. Although, drkoop shouldn't hold its proverbial breath for a charitable lifeline from the planet's largest blue chip Net company.

With a blockbuster bricks-and-clicks merger on its plate, AOL is likely to be content to stay focused on its pending marriage with Time Warner . It's doubtful AOL will make any move that could potentially rock the boat for trustbusters to seize on. And with increasing scrutiny and opposition to the deal, don't look for a sugar daddy handout from the ISP giant anytime soon.

Any questions or comments, love letters or hate mail? As always, feel free to forward them to kblack@internet.com.

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