UnitedHealth Group acquires PatientsLikeMe

The online patient community portal will now be incorporated into UnitedHealth Group's research arm, which is focused on health innovation and improvement.
By Laura Lovett and Dave Muoio
03:39 pm
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UnitedHealth Group has acquired online patient community portal PatientsLikeMe as of June 19, according to an announcement sent out via email to members of the latter's DigitalMe study this afternoon. The announcement explains that as part of the acquisition, the startup will now become part of UnitedHealth Group’s research arm that focuses on healthcare improvements and innovation. 

“This independent unit of UnitedHealth Group invests in research that speeds improvements to drive innovation in healthcare,” Jamie Heywood, CEO of PatientsLikeMe, wrote in a message to members on behalf of the PatientsLikeMe team. “We’ve chosen to join with UnitedHealth Group Research & Development because they share that same drive to improve health at the individual level and to ensure that healthcare outcomes across the board are more effective.”

In the email, the company said that there would be no changes to the PatientLikeMe name or membership, but indicated that there will be more connections with UnitedHealth Group. As in the original privacy policy, the company shares data with two types of third parties: researchers, like UnitedHealth Group’s R&D division, and the vendors whose services contribute to website operation. 

Above all, Heywood stressed that members' identifiable personal data will not be shared with any research partners, nor will private messages between members. There will also be no changes to who can read posts in PatientsLikeMe’s social platform.

This announcement comes after stories circulated in April that PatientsLikeMe was seeking a new buyer due to concerns of foreign investment and influence.

Specifically, CarbonX — a health data and genomics company founded by scientist Jun Wang and heavily backed by Chinese mega-conglomerate Tencent that played a major role in PatientsLikeMe’s $100M funding round back in early 2017 — was facing pressure from the Trump Administration's Committee of Foreign Investment in the United States to divest its substantial stake in the company. 

What's more, PatientsLikeMe also sent its members a message this weekend warning of "potentially suspicious activity" involving users' account credentials. According to this note, an unknown third party attempted to gain unauthorized access to the service using email address and passwords. PatientsLikeMe's investigation of this issue is ongoing.

"We have not identified any evidence to date that PatientsLikeMe was the source of the compromised credentials, but rather that the credentials were likely obtained from external sources," the company wrote in the message to users, and confirmed to Luisbrandao today.  

PatientsLikeMe’s online platform offers those with a chronic condition the opportunity to track and share symptoms and treatment experiences, contribute data for research and connect with others who are going through similar situations. A paper published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research last year detailed a data-driven research partnership with the FDA.

This story is developing and may be updated. Luisbrandao is also reaching out to UnitedHealth Group and PatientsLikeMe for more information.