Online Extra: Q&A with Dr. C. Everett Koop

The former surgeon general talks about new CEO Richard Rosenblatt and plans to get the ailing health site back on its feet

Former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop had good reason to be suspicious of the new CEO of (now, DrKoop LifeCare), Richard Rosenblatt. Koop, who is the chairman of the board but not directly involved in day-to-day operations, watched his old management team drive the company nearly to bankruptcy, so he eyed the 32-year-old Rosenblatt with caution. But he quickly gained confidence in the new CEO and his turnaround plan. Los Angeles Correspondent Arlene Weintraub spoke to Koop by phone. What follow are edited excerpts from their discussion:

Q: The new DrKoop team will leverage your name in several offline health endeavors, including launching a new line of nutritional supplements. Why do you feel this is a good industry to get into?

A: More than 70% of Americans use one or more types of alternative medicine. Supplements represent a huge business, but they're not regulated by the FDA, so the industry is a mess. Mine is a trusted name by most Americans. We think we can raise the bar for alternative medicine by treating these supplements the way all pharmaceuticals are treated. We want to give users the assurance that an honest effort has been made to provide a safe, quality product.

Q: Are you afraid the controversy surrounding the old will affect the company's turnaround efforts?

A: No. These new offline ventures will bring in a solid revenue stream. Then investors and consumers will see that we have the right plan.

Q: You now have a CEO who is young and somewhat inexperienced in health care. Why doesn't that concern you?

A: One of the great criticisms when I went to Washington was that I had no public health experience, I didn't have a public health degree. But I did pretty well. Some people are quick studies. Richard has natural talent. He came in ready to learn what he needed to do to correct the mistakes of previous management.

Q: What do you envision as the future role of the Internet in health?

A: Web sites having to do with health will continue to be valuable. Americans have become used to finding the information they need on the Web, and they want to take care of their own health. Someday, some courageous person is going to say, "Why is all this information free? We could charge $5 a month for it." That will come, but we're not there yet.

Q: What are your reflections on the difficulties your company has faced?

A: I learned a lot about what you shouldn't do when you're starting a business. You shouldn't try to be big before you've proven yourself. You should build up your product before you dive in. But now I have to try to turn my back on what's happened and just move forward.

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