How to find a doctor that doesn't suck? Spreemo has a new answer

By Carmel DeAmicis , written on August 30, 2013

From The News Desk

One of the biggest challenges in healthcare: how to find a doctor that doesn't suck? Various medtech startups have tackled this issue -- like Healthgrades and ZocDoc, which act like Yelp for doctors. Medtech is one of the less fun spaces in which to innovate, fraught with regulatory problems and complicated bureacracies. Startups have to start small, tackling one state and one problem at a time.

That's the approach for Spreemo, a company that gives radiologists 1-5 star ratings based on their education and training, the quality of their equipment, and their price.

"I want the experience patients have in their healthcare to be like Amazon," Spreemo founder Ron Vianu says. Radiologists apply for free to join the network, and Spreemo uses an algorithm to score their services. The algorithm takes into account everything from whether a radiologist trained extra years in a particular specialization to how new their MRI machine is. Spreemo launched in 2010 in the state of New York, and has since branched out to five other states, with Maryland and California next on its list.

Spreemo is carving out its own space in the medtech sector by focusing on workers' compensation. Individual patients can't do their own search for radiologists -- instead, companies pay Spreemo to access its databases and find the best providers. "They do better financially if their injured employees get better faster," Vianu says. That's how Spreemo makes its money.

It's not much of an "Amazon for patients" if patients can't access it. But Vianu says he hopes to eventually allow individual patients -- who aren't getting workers' compensation -- access to the database for their personal health insurance needs. For now though, "It's much easier reaching out to big companies with 200-300 thousand employees, versus reaching out to individual employees," Vianu says.

Here's the thing: Spreemo is too small to attract much attention at this point in time. Plus it's about as unsexy a medtech venture as you can get: the intersection of worker's comp and radiology? Without consumers being able to use it personally? It's like the perfect storm of niche meets boring.

But the idea of Spreemo  is promising. If Spreemo tackled more medical markets in more geographies, and was open to individual people -- not just companies -- then it would be a boon for finding doctors. Can you imagine a legitimate Amazon for patients? One whose rankings were created by objective algorithms tailored for various medical fields? It would be a massive undertaking, but Spreemo's carving out the first - albeit tiny - piece of that idea.

The goal of Spreemo is a noble one: to get providers to compete with each other based on quality, not price. Spreemo founder Vianu chose to focus on radiology first because it's a medical service that is treated like a commodity. Employers think they can send their worker's comp employees to whichever radiologist is cheapest or most convenient, without it impacting the care outcome. In other words, people believe that radiology is just a picture, so anyone could take it.

"It is a battle that radiologists are fighting," Dr. Michael Thorpe, a provider listed on Spreemo's site, says. "You can buy an MRI machine for $200,000 and it would be old, out of date equipment. Or you can buy a new one for $1.5 million dollars, and for imaging that means we can see that pathology better." The radiologist's report of the image affects health outcomes, such as the patient's diagnosis, their treatment, and how soon they can go back to work.

Since the startup launched in 2010, over 30+ employers, insurance companies, and government agencies signed up, which represents over a million patients. In the future, Vianu sees Spreemo moving into other specialized markets like orthopedic surgery and physical therapy -- markets where it's difficult to quantify quality.

Bring it on, baby.

[Image courtesy of Murray Barnes]