Equifax Inc. is fast retreating from the health-care information business it entered nearly three years ago to hone in on financial and insurance-based services.

Over the past two months, the consumer data company has divested the major businesses that made up its health-care operation. Only one business remains, and Equifax is busily searching for a buyer.

The reason for the reversal, said Dan Kohl, senior vice president and group executive of Equifax health information services, is "the payback would have been much longer term than what Equifax expects to get in returns in financial services and insurance."

Moreover, Equifax is aggressively moving into new international markets, a high priority for the Atlanta-based firm. Equifax has operations in 17 countries outside the United States.

Equifax operates as a consumer credit bureau, a credit card and check processor, and develops decision support products to help lenders assess credit risk.

Over the past few years, Equifax acquired four companies to provide electronic data interchange and claims-processing services to the health- care industry. Those companies, two of which were melded into one, already have suitors.

National Data Corp. agreed to buy Equifax's Health EDI Services business, and Centra Benefit Services agreed to buy Health Administrative Services in October.

The most recent deal was announced last week. HCIA Inc., a company that develops clinical and financial support systems used by hospitals, agreed to buy Equifax Health Analytical Services for $11.5 million.

Equifax's remaining health-care business, Medical Credentials Verification Service, a data base for hospitals and insurance providers to verify physician credentials, was started in-house. Mr. Kohl said he is looking for a buyer for the service, but that Equifax may also decide to keep the business.

When Equifax entered the health-care information business, it planned to grow by acquiring companies in the health care transaction and claims- processing industry.

"What has happened over the past three years," said Mr. Kohl, "is that the companies we needed to acquire have become quite expensive in terms of the relative value they command."

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