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Entrepreneurs at ZocDoc Say They Can Solve a Major Obamacare Concern

February 4, 2014
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/231209

One of the biggest concerns related to Obamacare is that patients will spend even more time in their doctors' waiting rooms as some of the 48 million Americans who were previously uninsured gain health insurance.

That’s exactly why the entrepreneurs behind doctor-finding technology company ZocDoc say the innovation they are bringing to the health-care system is mission critical. Using the Internet, New York City-based ZocDoc allows patients to find doctors and doctors to fill their open appointment slots in real time. Like ZipCar, ZocDoc is essentially using technology to identify and use excess capacity.

Related: Zipcar Founder: Entrepreneurs Have to Build a Collaborative Economy, or Else

While the average wait time across the country is 20 days for a patient to get in to see a doctor, a ZocDoc customer can get in to see a doctor within three days. And half of all ZocDoc patients get in to see a doctor within 24 hours.

ZocDoc says that one-quarter of doctor’s appointments change availability at the very last minute either due to cancellations or schedule changes. Identifying, tracking and filling those changing appointments on a large scale would be nearly impossible before the Internet. Much in the same way that travel-booking sites such as Kayak and Orbitz have given fliers a more efficient way to search and compare available flights, ZocDoc has given patients access to a whole supply of available doctor’s appointments.

“That hidden supply exists wherever we go -- and it is going to be crucial for us to surface it so that ACA can be successful,” says ZocDoc founder Dr. Oliver Kharraz. In addition to making the consumer experience better by minimizing wait time, ZocDoc works to educate its users on what preventative appointments they should be seeking out. Getting patients in to see their health-care provider regularly can reduce cost on the overall health-care system by preventing astronomically expensive urgent-care emergency room visits, says Kharraz.

When ZocDoc was founded in 2007, it served only New York City. The tech company now has around 500 employees and serves 2,000 cities. Five million users book appointments on ZocDoc each month. The company is private and so declines to share revenue or profit figures.

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ZocDoc is obsessive about providing quality customer service, aiming to be the Zappos of health care. Several customer satisfaction performance statistics are constantly projected on the wall of the customer service center at ZocDoc's New York headquarters. When this reporter toured the headquarters in mid-January, the statistics being projected showed that 78 percent of phone calls to ZocDoc were picked up after the first ring and 85 percent of emails were responded to within the hour.

Kharraz, 40, is German born and he is fiercely idealistic. After all, he is attempting to fix the health-care system in the U.S. -- a task that the U.S government has very publicly been floundering.

“That is why I am an entrepreneur, I suppose, because I just can’t give up,” says Kharraz. He is determined to change the way Americans monitor their own health, and he points to other entrepreneurial-minded companies such as Apple and Amazon that have successfully managed to change consumer expectation and behavior.

“I have a certain irrational optimism, maybe, but I think it is a game of small improvements,” says Kharraz. When ZocDoc launched, he and his two co-founders sat down and plotted all of the reasons why their business might fail. Then, one by one, the three entrepreneurs fixed or eliminated those potential weaknesses in the business plan. Improvement happens baby step by baby step, Kharraz says.

“In health care, we are in the very, very beginning of taking a very, very complex set of processes and seeing what operational excellence can look like.”

Obama better hope Kharraz doesn’t lose his optimism. 

Related: ZocDoc Is Cyrus Massoumi's Vision of Delivering Better Health Care (Video)