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Finding a Doctor with Ease
Zocdoc Allows Patients to Make Appointments and Read Reviews Online

April 2016
Oliver-Kharraz

Oliver Kharraz, MD, CEO of Zocdoc

A car mechanic. Dry cleaner. Hair stylist. Pharmacist. Favorite grocery story and wine shop. These are some of the businesses and services that are instrumental to everyday life, and once you discover the ones that you like, you tend to hold onto them dearly and hope they never move or go out of business. However, as important as these are to make life easier, nothing is more critical than finding a primary care physician, specialist and dentist that you trust, takes your insurance plan and can handle all your health needs. If you need a new doctor – perhaps you’ve moved to another city or state – the task of finding one can be daunting, frustrating and time-consuming.

I experienced this firsthand earlier this year. We have moved from Baltimore to Washington, D.C., temporarily, and once we switched our insurance from the Maryland state health exchange to the Washington, D.C. exchange, we needed to find new doctors. I asked several friends for suggestions; however, every time I would receive a recommendation, it seemed that particular physician did not accept my insurance plan. Adding to the frustration, many times I found that the online directory on my carrier’s website was out of date. (Physicians who once accepted my insurance had recently changed their minds.) Thankfully, my husband stumbled across an incredible resource – Zocdoc.com.

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Zocdoc began as a startup nine years ago with the aim to change the way Americans researched doctors and to make the process easier. With a few clicks, I was able to insert my insurance information and see which dermatologists, for example, accepted my insurance and are located nearby. Most helpful were reviews by other patients with useful information such as access to public transportation, average wait time, bedside manner, condition of waiting area, helpfulness of the front staff, whether the office takes credit cards and more. Best of all, I was able to make an appointment online and then fill out all the necessary patient forms on my laptop, eliminating the wasted time spent filling out forms at the office via cumbersome paperwork. And unlike my insurance carrier’s physician directory, Zocdoc’s directory of which physicians accept my insurance was up-to-date.

Zocdoc says that it’s the physicians’ responsibility to keep their profile accurate as part of their agreement with Zocdoc. The site also allows for feedback by patients, so if there are any discrepancies with insurance information, Zocdoc is immediately made aware and steps are taken to update the directory.

“Our mission is to give power to the patient … to make healthcare less hard,” according to Oliver Kharraz, MD, CEO of Zocdoc, in a blog post. “We’ve got a good start on our goal. We’ve cut the wait time to see a doctor from nearly three weeks to less than 24 hours. Deciphered who’s in-network and out with more accuracy than insurers themselves. Helped patients book with more than 50 specialist types. And made online check-in forms standard and shareable (95 percent of our providers use them).” Kharraz was one of the founders of Zocdoc and a medical doctor himself, bringing a physician’s point of view to the company.

Following the Doctors
Zocdoc began by sending representatives to various cities to sign up individual doctors and practices to the site. (New York City was the company’s initial market, followed by the Baltimore/Washington, D.C. metro area.) However, the company began to see a shift in how doctors were positioning their practices. Zocdoc says that eight years ago, only 30 percent of physicians were employed by a hospital or health system. Today, Zocdoc says that two-thirds of doctors have moved from independent practice to hospitals or health systems, citing a 2015 Accenture report. To mirror this trend and follow the market, Zocdoc began making more relationships with hospitals and health systems so that patients could access the physicians and specialists they needed. The company says it will continue to work with independent practices, especially in areas such as dentists and optometrists, which are less likely to be part of a hospital system.

Following the doctors to the hospital setting provides advantages for patients, as well, as partnering with a large health system immediately changes access for patients to review and make appointments with a large number of physicians and specialists. For example, when University Hospitals in the Cleveland area joined Zocdoc, all of Northeast Ohio had the ability to access care online due to the size of University Hospitals.

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Of course, physicians benefit from being part of Zocdoc’s directory, too. In addition to an online presence that can connect them to patients, the review system provides a voice for doctors and testimonials about their quality of care. However, as evidence by the news that broke last fall that some reviews on sites such as Amazon were actually fake ones written by paid individuals, there are pitfalls to reviews. To ensure accuracy and trustworthiness, Zocdoc uses a closed-loop system – every comment must be written by a verified patient who has actually seen the doctor. All reviews (as long as they fit within Zocdoc’s guidelines) are posted, regardless if they are positive or negative, and all reviews are moderated by Zocdoc to ensure fairness.

Each patient is prompted after an appointment to do a quick review. With other sites, I admit that I have ignored such requests, but since I heavily relied on reviews on Zocdoc when choosing my doctor, I did feel a sense of responsibility to participate. A company spokesperson for Zocdoc says that the high number of reviews the company receives creates a more level playing field if you will, as outliers such as those “extremely happy” and “extremely dissatisfied” are balanced by those who had a pleasant or less than satisfactory experience.

Patients First
Many times when a startup gains momentum and is established in the marketplace, worries arise that it will become solely focused on revenue and less on customer service. Despite an announcement in August of $130 million of funding and a current valuation of $1.8 billion, making it one of New York City’s most valuable private tech companies, Zocdoc says it’s focus will always be on the patient experience. To illustrate this, in February, the company redesigned its website and unveiled a new logo – a bright, animated yellow face with varying expressions, a reminder that Zocdoc is all about the patient.

Where is My Chart?
Another online tool for patients is called “MyChart,” a secure website provided to some hospital systems’ patients that provides the most up-to-date medical information available. Patients can view some medical records, including diagnoses, medications, immunizations and most test results; send secure messages to your doctor’s office; update medications; request appointments and view past appointments; and renew prescriptions. Patients can also use MyChart as a reminder tool of annual tests that they need to have done. Several health systems offer MyChart, including Johns Hopkins Medicine, Mercy Health Systems and Anne Arundel Medical Center, while other hospitals offer similar website portals, such as MyPortfolio.

“Our No. 1 core value is to always put the patient first and when making any decision, we always ask: ‘Is this good for the patient?’ All of us who work here are patients, too, so we understand how frustrating the health care experience can be,” says Amy Juaristi, company spokesperson for Zocdoc. “We know how uncomfortable it can be to try to talk on the phone to a doctor’s office about a rash while sitting in a crowded workplace, or how hard it is to discern your insurance information while trying to console a sick child who is screaming.” Juaristi adds that the two aforementioned patient experiences were used as examples in a recent television and digital ad campaign by Zocdoc that ran in the Washington, D.C. metro area, among other markets.

CEO Kharraz concurs in a blog post titled “Care Beyond the Paper Gown.” “People aren’t just patients when they’re in the exam room wearing a paper gown. They are patients before, when they are looking for a doctor, deciphering insurance benefits, and guessing at the cost of an office visit. They are patients after, when they are sorting through claims, filling prescriptions, and logging their FSA benefits. Together, we’ll continue to simplify the healthcare experience, to remove the inconvenience and complication, to lessen the frustration, so that patients can concentrate on what happens inside the exam room and avoid all of the obstacles on the way there.” I95

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