I think ZocDoc is the most important company to launch this year. Beyond being a financial hit (which it should prove to be for founders Cyrus Massoumi, Oliver Kharraz, and Nick Ganju and Dave Weiden of Khosla Ventures), it’s the company with the best opportunity I’ve seen to save an ailing health care system and fundamentally change how healthcare is delivered and managed in the U.S. Since this is far more than the company claims, I’m not just drinking the Kool-Aid, I’m making it and pouring it. Here’s why:

The core concept – OpenTable for doctor appointments – is brilliant in its obvious simplicity. Give doctors a web-based scheduling system for patient appointments that has value all by itself, then let them fill their open slots by connecting to a network of patients looking to book appointments. Patients find doctors easily and get appointments quickly, doctors fill their schedules, and ZocDoc gets a referral fee for each slot booked.

The service will unquestionably deliver on Weiden’s and Khosla’s interest in improved access to health care, but the transparency will also have a more profound and positive impact on health care. Understanding how is as easy as looking at the three simple ratings under a doctor’s name, and how it will improve:

  • Medical care. The average recommendation sums up the doctor from 1 to 5 stars, which will directly impact the patient’s choice of physician. The result? Patients flock to the good doctors, and avoid the bad ones. Good doctors thrive, bad doctors struggle. One could argue this happens eventually anyway via word-of-mouth, but the transparency offered by ZocDoc will speed it up dramatically.
  • Bedside manner. This recommendation sums up how the doctor treats the patient. I remember a doctor in NY that didn’t take his hand off the doorknob during the 5 minutes he spent with me. I took the time to chase him down, sit him down, and explain how unacceptable that was. It had an impact on him, but I suspect few patient go to the same lengths. This review should make the participating doctors much more cognizant of their bedside manner.
  • Wait time. Anecdotally, the elapsed time between when I arrive for my appointment and when I see the doctor averages 30-60 minutes. The simple review on ZocDoc of wait time promises to steer traffic and revenue to the doctors that do not keep their patients waiting.

Beyond the doctors reputation, the key is that the reviews impact the placement of the doctor in the search results, impact the selection that the patient makes, and directly impacting the doctor’s patient flow and earnings. Restaurants care about their ratings on Yelp because it affects their bottom line, sellers care about their feedback on EBay because it affects their bottom line. ZocDoc offers the same potential.

Why ZocDoc will succeed where others have failed – a killer feature

  • On the patient side, It’s fair to point out that there are many other services offering doctor reviews that not reached critical mass – RateMDs, DrScore, MyDocHub, Vitals, Book of Doctors, Dr Scorecard – and ask why ZocDoc will fare any better.

    The answer is that ZocDoc has a single killer feature that the others lack – online scheduling. It’s this killer feature that will drive greater use and adoption than simple  reviews. If it were just about ratings and reviews – Yelp for Doctors – I’d predict ZocDoc’s quick demise. But the booking solution – OpenTable for Doctors – provides much broader and greater value and appeal.

    The larger audience will drive volume and credibility in the reviews that doesn’t exist on less trafficked sites, and make the physicians care about these reviews in a way that they don’t care about the other sites.
  • On the physician side, it’s fair to point out that while new drugs and medical technologies are adopted quickly, every other technology (save voice transcription) has struggled in the hands of technophobic doctors. If ZocDoc was just an online scheduling system for physicians – Google Calendar for Doctors – I’d also predict it’s demise. But the booking solution provides much broader value and appeal. OpenTable fills an average of 253 open seats for it’s participating restaurants each month; if ZocDoc can fill a fraction of that, it will have a major impact on the doctor’s earnings.

Why stop here? ZocDoc can have an even more profound impact.

ZocDoc’s simple killer feature – online scheduling – will allow it to build the audience and engagement necessary to become a platform, and put it in a position to deliver a much broader spectrum of services the industry has talked about for decades but failed to deliver on. This evolution would be similar of how many internet giants used the success of killer applications to become platforms:

  • Amazon – from book sales to an ecommerce platform
  • Facebook – from friendfeeds to a social platform
  • Google – from search to platform
  • Salesforce.com – from CRM to ondemand platform

If ZocDoc runs this route, here are some things I’d like to see

  • A communications platform. Today, doctors are intentionally shielded from patients by an army of receptionists, assistants, HMO web sites and answering services. Often, if a patient wants to talk to his own doctor, it can mean a three week wait for an appointment, a half-hour trip to the office, a half-hour wait for the doctor — all for the opportunity to ask a question in the 15 minute alloted slot. ZocDoc has the potential to change all that. Because all appointments through the system, ZocDoc has the potential to become a platform for individual doctors to communicate with their patients directly and more efficiently:
    • Post health articles to be read by patients
    • Point to specific, credible, trusted resources
    • Offer online office hours to chat or respond to emails
  • A records platformGoogle Health and Microsoft Health Vault both hope to put the consumer in control of their medical records, but ZocDoc provides a more logical home for these records.  With my health records unified in ZocDoc, every time I schedule an appointment with a new doctor, I can grant that doctor access to my file. Once I see the doctor, my records can be uploaded to my profile, or for old school docs – faxed to a custom fax number like 800.555.1212 ext111756 – which would automatically update my file. This records functionality could be offered independently, or via integration with Google Health.
  • An administrative platform. A communications platform between the physician and the patient (see above) could provide the opportunity to improve the efficiency of mundane tasks. Billing, insurance reconciliation, referral requests, and refill requests and a whole spectrum of asynchronous tasks could be coordinated through such a platform.

Consumer-driven health care

Fundamentally, we’re talking about consumer-driven health care in a system currently driven by HMOs and doctors, where sick and powerless patients perpetually get the short-end of the stick. ZocDoc is already on track to use a simple killer feature to amass a mass audience and drive new levels of access, quality and transparency into the market.

Conclusion

ZocDoc is admittedly in its infancy (15K uniques, a handful of doctors), and its important to successfully build its business on the killer feature of online scheduling before looking more broadly. Even if it limits its ambition to being OpenTable for doctors, it can become a billion dollar company. But if it succeeds here, the sky is the limit.


Bottom Line: Bet on this one.

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