Is that 500K Physicians in Your Pocket, or Is it DoctorsElite for iOS?

By Michael Carney , written on August 6, 2012

From The News Desk

Some smartphone apps, once downloaded, become an essential part of our everyday workflow. Others, although perhaps equally valuable, are only called upon in specific circumstances. DoctorsElite for iOS is the latter kind, assisting patients to search for physicians and medical facilities based on a given medical diagnosis or treatment.

DoctorsElite was created by a group of gulf coast physicians following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina to simplify tracking patient medical histories and connecting patients with the correct medical care around the country. The newly launched app is a compliment to the website which launched in April and offers further functionality.

The goal of DoctorsElite is to put medical resources at the fingertips of both physicians and patients. Through the app, patients and medical professionals can search the company’s network of more than 500,000 physicians nationwide according to treatment type and diagnosis, as well as specialty, facility, physician name, and location. Other services, such as ZocDoc, HealthLeap, and DocAsap do not offer the granularity of searching by treatment or diagnosis.

While the four-week-old app succeeds in its breadth, the early version fall somewhat short in its depth. Physician profiles are generally limited to name, address, phone number, facility, and a list of specialties. In most cases, there are no detailed biographies or more surprisingly reviews or recommendations, something offered by several of its competitors.

According to CTO Siva Subramanian, this was a conscious decision made in “lean startup” fashion, with the goal of first seeing how users use the app. The company’s team of medical researchers spent nearly five years post-Katrina assembling the database of physicians based on treatment and diagnosis. It’s up to each individual doctor to add additional information, including their biography and educational information. As far as reviews or ratings, the company is focusing initially on solving the discovery issue, which it says is an enormous problem for those not living in major cities.

Despite the fact that 80 percent of its signups come through its mobile app, much of the DoctorsElite platform’s richest functionality is currently limited to the Website. Patients can use the site to store and maintain digital medical records for an entire family, offering organized access to this information anywhere, anytime. Similarly, because DoctorsElite is used by physicians to locate and contact specialists, the site can be used to track patient referrals and follow-ups, including the ability to attach face sheets, comments, and any relevant documentation.

Also through the site, physicians can communicate directly using Scribbl, a secure private chat and group forum feature. This makes the app like a private social network for doctors where they can seek professional feedback on particular cases in a safe and compliant manner. This actually seems like potential killer feature if it catches on. If doctors turn to Scribbl to consult with one another and refer patients, it could lead to significant locking and in turn lead them to encouraging patients to use the service.

DoctorsElite plans to add more of this functionality in future app updates, with the first planned in approximately two months. Within that timeline, it plans to release Android and Windows Phone 7 versions of the app as well. Ultimately, there will be two separate apps, one for patients and one for doctors, each offering most if not all of the Website’s functionality.

The company is entirely bootstrapped by its co-founding brothers interventional cardiologist Cyril V.K. Bethala, gastroenterologist Vivian K. Bethala, interventional cardiologist Vasanth K. Bethala, and internist Yashashree Bethala. The Bethelas have yet to monetize their platform, although they have “definite plans for monetization” according to Subramanian, including eventually subscriptions and in app purchases targeted at patients.

There’s little question that medical care is “going digital” whether willingly or kicking and screaming. There’s big money and big politics making sure this is the case. Some of the company's competitors have a sizable head start in user acquisition, even if the services aren't identical. ZocDoc, for example is likely the largest, reporting more than 1.5 million monthly users.

The winners in the space will be the ones that offer a seamless transition from the ways of the past to the future, while also adding new value not previously available. DoctorsElite aims to be more than just the digital version of the medical yellow pages. The early version of the app may not yet deliver fully on this promise, but it remains just that, early.