One year ago July while I was in New Castle, Pennyslvania, for a family reunion, my mom collapsed from blood clots in her lungs. But what they actually said to us was that she had one blood clot in each lung. That sounded strange to me: How do you have one blood clot in each lung?
I combed the Web looking for answers. I tried to search for the best doctors in the New Castle/Pittsburg area, but it was nearly impossible to figure out who was the best pulmonary specialist and even more, the best pulmonary specialist covered through my mom’s insurance.
When I did try and get in touch with other doctors, my phone calls were not returned, or I couldn’t get an appointment right away with them. Their reasoning was usually that she wasn’t a regular patient and the doctors at the hospital my mom was in wouldn’t provide referrals. Why would they, when they had their own specialists, right? Thank goodness my mom’s doctor, Dr. Martin at Kaiser Permanente of San Rafael, California, was available by phone any time. We called for a second opinion.
It’s surprising to me that up until now there wasn’t an easy way to find and connect online with the best doctors across the country. Up until recently a patient has had to go to their insurance company’s web site to find out which doctors are accepted under their plan, then Google the doctor’s name to find reviews on sites such as Yelp, and then once they find the doctor, then try and book an appointment. It’s a lot of work that could take hours, possibly even days. It’s been a big problem, which Ari Tulla discovered a year ago as well when his family was facing an unexpected health drama, and he struggled with finding the best doctors in the San Francisco Bay Area. There wasn’t a service available at the time which compiled all the information necessary to make a well-informed decision about a doctor. It takes a lot of manual labor.
Tulla says, “The essence of the problem was that there were no services available that compiled three data points together: consumer medical need, accepted insurance plan and quality metrics.” That’s why he decided to start BetterDoctor (www.betterdoctor.com).
BetterDoctor, which is headquartered at the moment in the co-working space Founders Den and has been one of the top trending start-ups on Angelist.com over the past month, is launching its beta service in the San Francisco Bay Area today with future plans to blanket the U.S. The site aggregates data from across the web to help consumers find the most highly rated doctors by consumers, whether they have an active medical license and if they’ve ever been charged with malpractice. Search criteria is fairly narrow at the moment. But the company plans to add a more detailed search capability in the future as well as the ability for patients to book appointments online. It doesn’t currently have a money-making strategy, but monetizing lead generation to doctors is a possibility down the road. For now the company is simply focusing on improving the data and acquiring users.
Since BetterDoctor’s inception nearly one year ago, Tulia has learned of other companies like his seeking a piece of this $2.7 trillion healthcare space. There are actually a handful that aggregate physician information — even some that allow patients to book appointments online. What separates BetterDoctor from its competitors is that the site actually weeds out the doctors that don’t meet its quality criteria. Vitals.com seems to be the closest in comparison. In addition to allowing users to search for doctors, it also shows board certification, user ratings, and gives patients the ability to search for doctors by inputing their symptoms or condition. It even has a video profile of each doctor, which I wasn’t really impressed with because it uses and automated voice which reads a transcript that is printed on the same page. As for competitor ZocDoc.com, this site allows patients to search for doctors in their area and book appointments online. It doesn’t have quite the detail on each doctor that BetterDoctor has, but it does include how patients have rated the doctors. Then there’s Castlight which focuses more on specialists and provides price comparisons for key services prescribed by doctors, such as MRI’s, X-rays and blood work. That company just raised $100 million Series D financing.
“If there is just a handful of players focusing on one of the key problem I see the market being almost empty,” says Tulla. “Call me an optimist.”
More than one million doctors and 200,000 medical practices nationwide care for the more than 265 million people who are insured by companies which offer 1,500 different plans. It’s a large market, which Sofinnova Ventures General Partner Mike Powell, who invests in the healthcare arena, says someone needs to tackle. No one’s conquered it yet. No one even really knows who the customer truly is yet. Will the consumer be willing to pay? Will the doctors pay? Doctors wages are going down, they’re overworked, and get most of their business from referrals. Would they really want to pay for a service that would bring in even more patients? Maybe those who are still paying for advertisements in the yellow pages. Yes. they’re still doing that. I looked this morning. Maybe these companies could convert those doctors into online advertisers. In any case, there are still a lot of questions as to how these businesses can make money off of search.
Castlight in particular is finding at least some success in targeting employers who are offering the company’s healthcare price comparison management suite to employees. But most of the companies in this space seem to simply be creating features versus true broad-based businesses, claims one VC who preferred to not be quoted directly. That’s an inherent problem in the mobile space, though. I’m sure these companies have heard that a million times. I don’t hear Instagram complaining $1 billion to the bank.
These companies vying for the opportunity to be the ultimate doctor search site are doing massive legwork in terms of data aggregation that would add value to any major health care company. Powell agrees. In terms of BetterDoctor.com, which he so far likes what he sees online, “I expect someone will gobble them up.”