Zocdoc: The Yelp for Medicine?

The Zocdoc platform has helped to increase transparency and ease accessibility within the healthcare industry, a space that lags behind most other industries in those areas. In doing so, Zocdoc has opportunities to further expand its offering to continue to benefit doctors, patients, insurers, and its own business interests; however, given the unique dynamics of the healthcare industry, there are significant barriers to Zocdoc that will continue to make platform ubiquity challenging.

As consumers, we’ve gotten so used to having information at our fingertips: reviews, information on where we can buy, transparent pricing, and even being able to immediately make purchases, appointments, or reservations online.  While many industries have moved rapidly towards increased transparency and accessibility, the medical profession has lagged in many respects.  Where do you go if you want to find a certain type of doctor?  How do you know if that doctor is any good?  Do you have to call to set up an appointment?  How do you know if the appointment or procedure is covered within your insurance network?  And if you’re a doctor, how are patients finding you?  How do you differentiate yourself from “competitors”?  And how do you save time on paperwork, setting appointments, and other administrative tasks that take away from your ability to deliver care?

Zocdoc, founded in 2007, is a platform that tries to answer and solve these questions for consumers with online medical care search and appointment booking services. Through its platform, you can search by location, condition / procedure, insurance, and other criteria to find doctors and appointment times that fit your needs.  In the past, the most common way to find new doctors would be through referrals (either from your primary care physician or from friends / family).  However, in the age of technology, people rely more and more on information online – research shows that 80% of respondents use the internet to make healthcare-related searches and 63% choose one provider over another because of their online presence.  And this isn’t just for millennials – 90% of patients in the 60+ demographic stated that they would switch providers if they saw negative reviews online [1]. All of this means that doctors need to have a presence where consumers are looking and Zocdoc has helped create a consolidated platform for doctors, reviews, and information, similar to a Yelp for restaurants or TripAdvisor for vacation travel.

In creating this healthcare marketplace, Zocdoc creates value for both consumers and doctors. For consumers, they can save time in searching for doctors, understand which providers they would prefer to go to, and booking appointments directly online.  For doctors, as consumers have lost trust in doctors and insurance reimbursements have been cut [2], they need to reestablish their reputations, as well as attract more patients to make up for lost earnings on reimbursements – Zocdoc enables them to do so, helping them to reach more patients and providing reviews that can demonstrate doctor proficiencies.  Zocdoc captures its own value from the doctors on the platform by charging fees to be listed, originally through subscription fees, but more recently adding in fees per booking (despite doctors complaining that this change would cause their fees to go up significantly) [3].

Zocdoc has established its platform, but still has lots of opportunities to expand.  Zocdoc has demonstrated this runway in the past – for example, in 2012 Zocdoc added the ability for patients to fill out paperwork online.  This enabled Zocdoc to both create and capture more value by saving time for patients in the office, saving time for doctors spent processing this paperwork, and ensuring patients are more likely to come in since they commit the time upfront, creating additional win-win-win results for patients, doctors, and Zocdoc.  Even more, as a platform connecting healthcare professionals and patients, Zocdoc can keep working towards becoming a central repository for healthcare information, either by partnering with a service like WebMD or building their own content that patients can use to identify which health services they need and doctors can use to supplement their knowledge and share information with other doctors.  Last, as a healthcare platform and with the ever-increasing rise in the importance of data, Zocdoc can leverage its platform to inform or add-value to a range of areas, including health care researchers (researching demand of doctors / need for certain treatments), advertisers (selling space), or even insurance companies (informing what their enrollees are looking for, which doctors to recommend, etc.).

On the other hand, given that the healthcare space is complicated and highly regulated, Zocdoc has faced and will continue to face significant uphill battles in growing its business model.  First, from a doctor review perspective, there are conflicting incentives that create concerns for all parties involved [4].  For example, at the end of the day doctors are meant to treat, and can’t necessarily always heal, so reviews might be more a result of a patient’s underlying health issues versus the actual care given / received.  Even more, patients will constantly be considering who is benefitting from these reviews – Zocdoc wants doctors to have good reviews, so that they can make more fees on bookings and justify their cost to doctors by delivering patients, and this might lead patients to mistrust reviews. Additionally, the healthcare industry is extremely fragmented, localized, and informationally complex, making it more difficult to consolidate the amount of information necessary to properly inform searchers [5].  And in regard to using data, information, and search history for further expansion and growth, this is an extremely sensitive area given that individuals’ health information is private and restricted in its use / sharing.  Lastly, the industry itself has interesting economic dynamics – doctors typically are not as business minded as “producers” in other industries and just want to provide care to patients, making them less profit driven and less willing to spend on “advertising” than in industries like restaurants or travel.

Overall, Zocdoc delivers a need to the industry and I believe certainly has a place in creating more transparency and accessibility for healthcare services.  By building this platform, Zocdoc has created opportunities to expand into additional services to continue to provide additional value to all sides of the platform.  However, given the intricacies and complexities of the health care space and its unique dynamics and incentives, there are huge roadblocks to growth that I believe will make rapid and outsized growth difficult in the future.  But, if Zocdoc can help to creatively solve some of the issues that prevent healthcare from being as transparent and accessible as other industries, I think the platform can continue to contribute to greater health, information, and delivery of service in the future.

 

Citations:

  1. Roesler, Peter. “New Research Shows Why Doctors Need a Strong Online Presence.” Inc.com, Inc., 21 May 2018, inc.com/peter-roesler/new-research-shows-why-doctors-need-a-strong-online-presence.html.
  2. Girgis, Linda. “Why Doctors Are Losing the Public’s Trust.” Physician’s Weekly, 27 Apr. 2018, physiciansweekly.com/doctors-losing-publics-trust/.
  3. Farr, Christina. “Doctor Booking App Zocdoc Will Start Charging a New Patient Fee despite Objections from Some Providers.” CNBC, CNBC, 30 Jan. 2019, cnbc.com/2019/01/29/zocdoc-moves-ahead-with-its-new-business-model-change.html.
  4. Adler, Ericka. “The Dangers of Online Reviews – and What to Do about Them.” Physicians Practice, 25 Mar. 2019, physicianspractice.com/article/dangers-online-reviews-%E2%80%94-and-what-do-about-them.
  5. Torrey, Trisha. “Physician Ratings Sites Exist to Make Money for Their Owners.” Verywell Health, Verywell Health, 24 June 2019, verywellhealth.com/doctor-review-websites-how-to-review-them-2614990.

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4 thoughts on “Zocdoc: The Yelp for Medicine?

  1. I would be interested in knowing more about the network effects of ZocDoc, if any. I am wondering like Yelp is slowing being replaced by Google Reviews if ZocDoc might also be replaced by Google as they build out health services. It might be interesting to google a doctors name eventually and the first hit is a google review and the second hit is a ZocDoc link.

    1. I think a big difference between Yelp and the medical space is that for doctors, there are so many different types and insurance also becomes a big issue. So while I’ve used Google reviews to look at doctors, I think for that initial finding of doctors under your insurance, Zocdoc is a lot more helpful, which keeps people coming back. I also think that the benefit of being able to schedule on Zocdoc is attractive for both doctors and user, + doing paperwork, so these add value that Google currently is not.

      I do agree with your point though that there are other platforms that can replicate ratings and that ratings on Zocdoc because of industry dynamics might not be as numerous, so this makes it a bit harder to generate as strong of network effects. But overall, there are some aspects of Zocdoc that help to create that moat.

  2. Interesting blog post and especially relevant given our increased focus on healthcare in recent weeks! One concern that I have about ZocDoc is the quality of doctors listing on the platform; because the platform is meant to act as publicity and reputation verification, I am concerned that top-tier doctors will not use the platform because why pay for something you already have? I wonder if ZocDoc could partner with or build in-house telemedicine capabilities that even top doctors don’t want to develop on their own to make the platform more attractive. This feature will likely become even more attractive after the COVID crisis because people are increasingly becoming comfortable with remote medicine.

    1. That’s a great point and I totally agree! I know that a lot of the highest quality doctors sometimes won’t even take insurance, don’t need referrals, etc. because they have such high demand so they might be less likely to put on Zocdoc.

      I like the telemedicine idea to help add more value for all doctors! Also, somewhat what I mentioned in the article – a big way WebMD makes money is through doctor subscriptions because they have doctor only portals with info. If Zocdoc can add on more supplemental services that add value to doctors other than just reviews, than this can help attract the best talent and I think they need to do that to keep / grow the number of doctors.

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