The Many Faces Of Snake Oil

It is my unhappy duty to reveal yet another depressing example of dishonest gain in medicine. This time, however, patients were not the only victims. Many healthcare professionals, including physicians, were prey to what has been called “an intellectual property ponzi scheme.”

In a press release dated January 28, 2009, the HealthCentral Network announced the acquisition of a company called Wellsphere from its young CEO, Ron Gutman. Many of my fellow medical bloggers are familiar with Wellsphere as they’ve received countless email form letters from its CMIO, Dr. Geoffrey Rutledge. The form letters are flattering, and suggest that the company would like to feature the blogger’s writing on their platform.

But what happens next is disturbing – to become a member of Wellsphere, bloggers provide access to their blog’s RSS feed. Hidden in the fine print is the blogger’s consent for Wellsphere to publish the entire feed (in other words, all of the blogger’s written work) and that once it’s published on their site, they own the intellectual property rights to it.

Astonishingly Wellsphere convinced some 1700 bloggers to join their network, and have now sold their site (which is comprised almost entirely of blog post content) to HealthCentral Network for an undisclosed amount, likely in the millions.

How much did the health bloggers get for their writing? As far as I know, zero dollars.

In the reference section below you will see copies of emails sent by Dr. Rutledge and excerpts from the website’s Terms of Use document.

Is this the biggest scam ever pulled on health bloggers? You decide. The Wall Street Journal health blog reports:

As for the thousands of bloggers HealthCentral picks up with the merger, there is already grumbling in the blogosphere that Wellsphere built its business on health bloggers who don’t benefit from the deal. “But most are happy and we hope with all our resources and quality-content background we will really strengthen these engagements,” Schroeder told us.

Interesting statement from Schroeder – “most are happy.” He clearly hasn’t read the comments section of my blog. If there ever were a time for the medical/science/health blogosphere to rise up “Motrin moms-style,” it would be now. You may Tweet in protest by entering your comment with “#wellsphere” on Twitter. Or kick it old-school here in our comment section.

If you have any additional information, feel free to post it in the comments section below.


Here is the introductory form email sent out by Dr. Rutledge:

Hi Dr. Jones,

I was on a search for the best medical blogs, when I found you at X.  I think your blog is great. I’d like to invite you to participate in the network of medical expert bloggers at Wellsphere, but perhaps I should explain a bit about myself and about Wellsphere as background.

My name is Dr. Geoff Rutledge, and, like you, I understand the power of the Internet to help people. I’m a physician (board certified in IM and EM) who previously practiced, taught, and carried out research at Stanford and Harvard medical schools, before I built and launched the first consumer ehealth service that became

I now work with Wellsphere, which is a next-generation online platform that helps people achieve their health and healthy living goals – it is a major advance in the way people find and share information and services. Our platform connects millions of users with the valuable insights and knowledge from health leaders and medical experts like you — take a look at how the platform works at Stanford University was so impressed that they deployed our service for the entire campus (see We sell our service to employers and health plans – you won’t see today any ads or commercial services on our free public site.

I offer you the opportunity to be a featured medical expert blogger for a new  Wellsphere community. Members and visitors will see your postings highlighted, featured, and clearly marked as authored by a true medical expert.

When you join, we will feature you on our medical experts page (here is the preliminary design for this page:, and I will highlight your participation and your postings in my personal blog, which is featured prominently on the homepage of (Dr.Geoff’s MedBlog,

We will republish the postings you’ve already written for you (through your RSS feed), and feature them not only on the community pages of the site, but also within a new dynamic magazine-like Wellsphere360 section, where we give users a comprehensive view of medical expert information, plus news, videos, local resources, and member postings on topics you write about. You can see a sample of a Wellsphere360 special section at

Also, I will select the best medical bloggers to feature on our homepage at

Your posts will link back to your blog, so you will benefit from Wellsphere’s high ranking and large readership interested in your topic, which will give you more traffic, additional relevant audience, and a higher ranking for your blog. Wellsphere has well over a million visitors per month, and is growing rapidly.

If you would like us to feature you, just send me an email to [email protected]

Good health,


Geoffrey W. Rutledge MD, PhD
[email protected]

Here is a follow up email after I declined to join the network:

Hi Dr. Val,

We haven’t met, but I’ve been following your journey. We sent you an invitation to republish your blog from RevolutionHealth on Wellsphere, though I understood why that was somewhat problematic. I’m looking forward to seeing your new site at

Have you followed the advances that Wellsphere has made in creating a consumer-focused site that makes it easy to find both medical expert content and knowledge, and patient/community support?

If you would be interested in reaching the Wellsphere audience (now significantly exceeding that of RevolutionHealth, with over 2 million visitors per month), I would be pleased to extend the offer to republish your blog postings on Wellsphere.

We also could list you as a Notable Wellsite on topic pages of your interest (for which we ask only that you either list us on your blogroll, or take advantage of our free Health Knowledge Finder widget, or post an “I’m featured on Wellsphere” badge on your site.)

Cheers, Geoff

Here is a follow up email sent to a blogger who declined to join the network:

I just wanted to follow up on the invitation I sent you to be a featured blogger on I was impressed with your blog at XXX, and invited you to be a featured blogger in the new General Medicine community.  We can also promote your blog in our new dynamic, magazine-like WellPages (with no extra work for you)! If you’re interested in being featured and promoting your blog to the larger Wellsphere audience, please drop me an email!
Good Health!

Here is more information on how this works:

We republish your articles on our site, and include links back to your site. We also publish your profile with a link back to your site, and we feature you on special sections on topics that you write on, and in your topic-based community.

We will set up your profile if you don’t already have one, so you don’t have to do anything but give us permission to republish your content on our site. We don’t require a particular schedule for posting, though we have invited you to become a Wellsphere health blogger based in part on your history of posting on your blog.

Our growing network of bloggers (now over 1700) have told us they value what Wellsphere is trying to accomplish – helping people of all walks of life and across the spectrum of health to achieve healthier lives. They also appreciate the opportunity to reach the larger (and also rapidly growing!) Wellsphere audience, and to benefit from links in each posting that drive traffic back to their blogs.

We would be happy to include you in our network as we expand into health topics.
Geoffrey W. Rutledge MD, PhD
Chief Medical Information Officer
Wellsphere, Inc.

Here is an email from Wellsphere about their plans for a health blog conference:

Hi ,

This week, I’m excited to share the warm words we’ve heard about all of you and the early feedback we’ve heard about the Yes, We Care Campaign, and announce the world’s first Health Blogger Conference!  We can’t wait to meet you in person…

Yes We Care!
The Yes We Care Campaign launched last week, and we’re thrilled to be able to honor you and your colleagues on the Map of Caring. The response has once again been quite dramatic. Many of you have already posted your Everyday Hero badges and the heartwarming Yes We Care! Video on your blogs. Here are a few of the comments we’ve heard about the campaign:

“I am thrilled to participate in your “YES, WE  CARE !” Campaign and am most humbled in your nomination.  What an amazing idea! Our blog continues with the hope of “paying it forward” and helping others, just as you are doing with Wellsphere. .. Thanks for doing such an amazing job!”  –

“Thank you so much for recognizing my site and the effort that went into creating it!!! It’s amazing people like yourselves that keep me going and make a contribution to the greater good of all !! thank you again my friends !!!” -

“Here is the video from Wellsphere! It is very cool it’s a 10 minute video with people from all over trying to help heal the world! Awesome video guys!”
“I want to take this opportunity to thank Wellsphere for calling me a “Everyday Hero” for the lives I have touched. I want to say thank you for giving me that opportunity to do so.”

Many of you commented that the Yes We Care video let you see and connect with other members of the Health Bloggers Network for the first time, and asked if we would consider organizing an event for everyone to meet and connect with each other.  WHAT A GREAT IDEA!

I am very pleased to announce the world’s first Health Blogger Conference (“ HBC -09”)! This conference will be the largest gathering of health writers in history!  The Conference will be by invitation only, and as a member of the Health Blogger Network, you will automatically be guaranteed an invitation. This will be a great place for you to meet fellow health bloggers, share best practices, discuss sources of ideas, learn how to promote your blog, and meet some of the most prominent figures in the world of health. There will be a series of organized information sessions and seminars, as well as fun events and ample opportunities for you to meet and mingle in a relaxed atmosphere.   We will announce the location soon – somewhere you will enjoy a healthy, rejuvenating, experience.

If you’d like to get involved in the Conference, here are some of the opportunities available to you:
– become an organizer
– become a volunteer
– give a talk or seminar
– organize a panel presentation
– suggest a topic for a talk or a panel
– suggest a speaker to invite to give a presentation

Here Are Excerpts From Wellsphere’s Terms of Service Document:

…All Website Materials, including any intellectual property rights in such Website Materials, are the property of Wellsphere, its affiliates, licensors, or the designated owners, and are protected by applicable intellectual property laws. You should assume that everything you see on this Website is copyrighted unless otherwise noted, and may not be used without our written permission except as provided in these Terms…

Content You Submit to or Post on the Website
…You agree that any and all comments, information, photos, videos, feedback and ideas that you communicate to Wellsphere or submit or post to the Website or give Wellsphere permission to post to the Website (“User Materials”) will be deemed, at the time of communication to Wellsphere or submission or posting to the Website, to be the property of Wellsphere, and Wellsphere shall be entitled to full rights of ownership, including without limitation, the unrestricted right to use or disclose such User Materials in any form, medium or technology now known or later developed, and for any purpose, commercial or otherwise, without compensation to you. In the event that you have any rights in the User Materials that cannot be assigned or waived you hereby grant to Wellsphere a royalty-free, paid-up, exclusive, worldwide, irrevocable, perpetual license to (i) use, make, sell, offer to sell, have made, and further sublicense any such User Materials, and (ii) reproduce, distribute, create derivative works of, publicly perform and publicly display the User Materials in any medium or format, whether now known or later developed.

When you post your own copyrightable content on the Website or give Wellsphere permission to post your copyrightable content on the Website, you retain ownership of any copyright you claim to your submitted content. However, by posting your content or giving Wellsphere permission to post your content you automatically grant Wellsphere a royalty-free, paid-up, non-exclusive, worldwide, irrevocable, perpetual license to (i) use, make, sell, offer to sell, have made, and further sublicense any such User Materials, and (ii) reproduce, distribute, create derivative works of, publicly perform and publicly display the User Materials in any medium or format, whether now known or later developed…

Posted in: Health Fraud, Science and the Media

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