The FDA is apparently widening its communication's net for consumers. The federal agency reported teaming up with WebMD (New York) in an effort to keep consumers abreast of notifications, news alerts and recalls, last week.

"[The partnership] with WebMD is going to enable the FDA to bring product safety alerts," Andrew Von Eschenbach, FDA commissioner said during a press conference last week. "We believe this will be an evolving process."

Part of the criteria for the FDA working with WebMD is the companies reach.

"It has been an organization that has been person focused and patient oriented if you will," Von Eschenbach said. "WebMD reaches out to 50 million each month and its magazine has a nine million reach. It's going to enable the FDA to bring product safety alerts to a wide range of consumers.

The partnership includes:

A new online consumer health information resource on Consumers can access information on the safety of FDA-regulated products, including food, medicine and cosmetics, as well as learn how to report problems involving the safety of these products directly to the FDA.

In addition, WebMD will bring the FDA public health alerts to all WebMD registered users and site visitors that request them. The cross-linked joint resource will also feature FDA's Consumer Updates — timely and what it calls easy-to-read articles that also are posted on the agency's main consumer web page.

FDA contributions to WebMD the Magazine. FDA Consumer Updates also will be featured at least three times a year in WebMD's bimonthly magazine, which reaches nearly 9 million consumers. The magazine is distributed to physician office waiting rooms across the country.

The FDA's information will appear in clearly marked pages on the WebMD web site that are free of advertising. FDA information will also appear in WebMD the Magazine. And the FDA web site will link directly to WebMD content.

According to WebMD CEO Wayne Gattinella, the collaboration will give consumers greater access to FDA news so that they can make better decisions regarding their health and well being.

"We have witnessed a tremendous move to health and wellness that is playing a role in all aspects of consumers' lives," Gattinella said. "Whether it relates to the drugs we take or the food we eat or even the cosmetic products we use, consumers are becoming much more involved in their health and well-being. This partnership between WebMD and the FDA is an important collaboration that further bridges that intersection of health, wellness, and prevention."

This is the first phase of what the FDA and WebMD are calling an evolving relationship.

The FDA said there are plans to work with other publications and web sites to deliver health alerts and original content.

During the conference call, questions came up on whether or not the FDA was giving a "seal of approval" to WebMD as the official health-related web site with this announcement.

Von Eschenbach disagreed and stated that this was only one avenue of getting the message out and the FDA would fail in its mission if it didn't pursue partnerships like this.

"What we have done is to take advantage of a mutual interest and to take a partner that has extraordinary capability and expertise to promote the agency's public health mission," von Eschenbach said. "This is just the first of what may be many such partnerships. We are fortunate to have as our first partner one that can bring to the table such extraordinary expertise as WebMD has."

The news of the partnership comes near the same time when WebMD reported that it would buy back more than 600,000 shares from the former owners of Subimo which it purchased two years ago and also authorized up to 30 million in other share buybacks.

The company said it would pay about $12.8 million for the 640,930 shares the former Subimo owners hold. It will also pay them $2.8 million in cash according to terms of the acquisition.