ZocDoc helps Utahns get doctor's appointments, stat!

ZocDoc » Online appointment scheduler gets warm response from medics.

By Kristen Moulton

The Salt Lake Tribune

As a primary care doctor, Layne Hermansen of Draper often starts his day with few appointments on the calendar.

But then the stubbed toes, sore throats and urinary infections strike and "at the end of the day, it’s been a busy day," says Hermansen.

Since April, the days have been even busier because patients are finding Hermansen — and open slots in his schedule — via ZocDoc.com, an online medical appointment scheduler that is formally launching in Utah this week.

The company has been signing up doctors since spring, but now, "It’s really ready for prime time," says Jess Aptman, director of communications for the New York-based company.

At ZocDoc, patients can find doctors who are accepting new patients or have openings that day or that week. They can sort doctors by location and insurance plans the doctors accept, and can see pictures and learn about doctors’ backgrounds. They can also read reviews from other patients.

Michael B. Strong, chief medical information officer for University of Utah’s Health Sciences, says ZocDoc is one of a handful of companies beginning to offer online medical scheduling.

Health care has been one of the last industries to go digital, in part because it’s tradition-bound, but also because doctors’ offices until recent years did not have robust computerized scheduling systems, he says.

ZocDoc, for instance, offers doctors the option of automatically downloading their schedules to submit gaps that ZocDoc can post online for potential patients. Doctors also can manually provide their openings to ZocDoc, as Hermansen does.

The U. plans to pilot a program in coming months with its existing MyChart portal to let patients see openings in their doctors’ schedules.

"Everyone is trying to make going to the doctor a little easier," Strong says.

Hermansen says he gets about two new patients a week via ZocDoc, which charges him roughly $3,000 a year but is free to patients.

Many who first found Hermansen on ZocDoc are now established patients, with return appointments on the books, he says.

"It’s efficient," he says. "This is the most convenient software to find a doctor and book an appointment."

ZocDoc is a closely held company that launched in 2007 with backing from such venture capital funds as DST Global, Founders Fund, Khosla Ventures and Goldman Sachs and investors Mark Benioff of Salesforce and Jeff Bezos of Amazon. Over the summer, it was raising another $152 million from investors.

ZocDoc says it is now in 40 states and 2,000 markets, and helps 6 million patients set up doctor appointments each month. The company won’t say how many Utah physicians it has signed up so far. But by scrolling through the ZocDoc website, it appears that 53 doctors from Ogden to Saratoga Springs were offering appointments via ZocDoc as of Monday. Their specialties range from family medicine to obstetrics/gynecology to ear, nose and throat doctors.

Low-income patients covered by Medicaid often have the most trouble finding doctors; as of Monday, four of the 11 primary care doctors listed along the Wasatch Front on ZocDoc were accepting Medicaid patients.

Aptman says patients typically can be in a doctor’s office within 24 hours of making an appointment, which is far faster than the 18.5-day wait that a study found is average in 15 major markets.

Besides helping doctors build their medical practices, ZocDoc helps them fill gaps in schedules.

Studies show doctors, on average, have short-notice openings for 10 percent to 25 percent of the schedules, Aptman says.

"No doctor wants up to a quarter of their time underutilized," she says.

Cancellations — even among sought-after doctors who have months-long waiting lists — are a problem for all physicians, she says.

The reviews on ZocDoc are verified, meaning only patients who have visited a doctor can leave a comment, she says.

ZocDoc is an example of what’s being called "connected healthcare," says Justin Kahn, founder and chief executive of TruClinic, a Salt Lake City company that launched in 2010.

TruClinic’s focus is telemedicine, allowing doctors and patients to "meet" over the Internet. It also offers a scheduling component.

"Providers make money by seeing patients," Kahn says. "ZocDoc is a mechanism for them to advertise they have a time available.

"It’s a feeder mechanism to get more boots in the door."