This clever and disruptive web service – and the perfect companion to an electronic health record that includes practice management tools – started in September 2007. Unfortunately I have met very few doctors who have heard of it. This company started by connecting New York dentists with open appointments to unattached patients trying to schedule a checkup, but has since expanded to include primary care, pediatrics dermatology, ophthalmology, ENT, orthopedics and several other specialties in New York City, Washington DC and San Francisco. In this sense, they have followed the model of Yelp, a recommendation provider for local commerce, by building the service one city at a time, instead of launching widely and taking a bigger risk of failing. But as more sophisticated electronic health records proliferate, physicians will definitely want to keep an eye on this service.
The value of the site is easily understood, especially if you have an electronic health record/practice management system. You, the patient, need to see a pediatrician or an orthopedic surgeon. If you search for doctors on-line or in the Yellow Pages (do they still print those?), you will be assaulted with dozens of names and offices in every specialty. After that, you still need to telephone each doctor’s office and request an appointment, preferably at a time that is convenient for you. And then, you get put on hold. ZocDoc changes all of that and for the better.
Now, this seems like a perfect job for the internet which, if nothing else, excels at connecting sellers and buyers, especially those with very particular needs. And indeed, this is what Zocdoc does. Right on the home page, you enter your zip code or city, the type of doctor you are looking for and your insurer. You will then quickly see a list of doctors and their available appointment times. You can click on a doctor to see their education, hospital affiliations, insurance accepted and patient reviews. If you are a patient (and we are all patients), it seems too good to be true at first.
The service is free for both patients and doctors. If you a participating physician, you provide your available times and your front desk is alerted whenever an appointment has been made. The utility of the web application and its strategic placement at the moment of doctor selection leaves the service many options for monetization. Undoubtedly, we physicians will be hearing soon about “premium” placement and rapid reporting of our patients’ reviews. This potential was obvious enough that the company was able to attract a star-studded list of investors including Vinod Khosla, Jeff Bezos, and Marc Benioff of Salesforce.com – who is also backing Practice Fusion, the free web-based electronic health record .
For physicians, disruption is a challenge and opportunity. We have always been told that the three most important qualities a doctor needs in order to build his or her practice are availability, affability and ability – in that order. This is usually said with a slightly longer look to make sure that the listener heard that ability was last. For physicians in a competitive market or those building their practice, ZocDoc will no doubt become a required competitive asset.
This service is free for patients, but in order for a physician to be listed they have to pay a fee.