Enhanced Provider Directories Match Patients Up with Doctors

With the new healthcare reform bill, about 30 million people are about to need doctors. Choosing a healthcare provider is a critical decision that can affect a patient’s health for years to come. A skilled physician can improve the patient’s long-term quality of life, while the wrong doctor may leave the patient mired in unnecessary tests and incorrect diagnoses. It’s easy for consumers to dig through their health insurance provider’s directory and find the nearest doctor’s office, but how do patients know what they’re getting? And with 30 million potential patients about to flood the marketplace, which providers will have time to see them?

A number of companies are using websites and mobile phone apps to provide value-added services for patients seeking a healthcare provider. Rather than being a mere repository of names and addresses, these services try to empower consumers to make more informed healthcare decisions. Additional features may include cost estimators, targeted directories that match symptoms to providers, patient reviews, and more. Doctor directories may drive business to high-quality providers, while encouraging poorly ranked providers to provide improved care. A 2008 report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that the public reporting of provider quality information was associated with changes in market share and patient mortality. The report also concluded that patients are interested in having greater access to quality information.

ZocDoc provides quality information, along with a variety of other features. Over 110,000 patients per month use the online service to find healthcare providers. Users can read patient reviews, receive wellness reminders and book appointments online. According to ZocDoc spokesperson Karsten Vagner, the appointment-booking feature benefits both patients and providers. With traditional scheduling, the average wait time between booking and appointment is 39 days, and 20 percent of appointments are last-minute cancellations or no-shows. With ZocDoc, patients can grab those last-minute openings, and providers aren’t left with empty slots on their schedules. Approximately 40 percent of appointments made on the site are within 24 hours.

Vagner attributes his company’s growth to patient and doctor demand. “I think that patients want to be able to connect with their doctors in a better way,” says Vagner. “People are finally waking up and saying, How come it’s still so hard to make a doctor’s appointment?”
New York dentist Dr. Alexander L. Duka has been using ZocDoc for about a year. When asked what he gets out of it, Duka replies, “Great patients and lots of them. It’s great because it matches up exactly the patient that you do take the insurance for.” The ZocDoc users he’s seen tend to be young and into computers. Patients can book appointments at night and show up in the clinic’s book the next morning. “I can’t say anything bad about it,” says Duka. 

iTriage, a smartphone app developed by Healthagen, acts as a virtual matchmaker between users and providers. Patients can enter their symptoms to produce a list of probable diagnoses. If the patient decides to seek treatment, iTriage can bring up a list of healthcare providers that will most likely be able to help. The app gives a map to the chosen provider’s office and a link to the provider’s “report card” at HealthGrades.com. iTriage is designed to decrease medical costs by helping patients make more informed decisions about whether to seek treatment, and to increase patient and provider satisfaction by providing better communication between the two parties. For a fee, healthcare providers can sign up for “Premier” status, which allows them to add real-time estimated wait times and other extras to their profiles.

myMedicalCosts.com is a nonprofit website that allows users to look up providers, quality indicators, and patient satisfaction comments. The company also offers a tool to look up the average cost for one of 7,000 medical procedures or healthcare services in a chosen area.

Another web-based directory, iNeedaDoc.net, allows users to search over 100 specialties. In addition to finding providers, the site offers maps, provider information and patient reviews. The site is a collaborative effort between law firm The Paladin Group, healthcare research company Castle Connolly, and DrScore.com

Whether a patient is new in town, visiting from out of state, or just looking for another doctor, enhanced doctor directories can help provide a more satisfying experience for both patient and provider. Let’s hear what features you think are important in such directories.

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