Recognizing a need for innovation, the government has made some of its raw data available on healthdata.gov., a central database where developers can get information for Web sites and apps. So far, the database includes everything from food safety recalls to fatality statistics, but the challenge remains the dearth of comparable information.
“Imagine buying a ticket on an Expedia-type travel site where the only metric available is on-time arrival but not the cost,” said Bob Kocher, a partner at the venture capital firm Venrock and a former White House health policy official. “It’s hard to aggregate something useful right now.”
Some information, such as the fees insurance plans negotiate with doctors and hospitals, are kept under wraps because the industry considers it proprietary information, experts said.
“If all the information is public, everyone will rush to the lowest reimbursement level,” said Liz Boehm, an analyst at Forrester Research. “Hospitals — in terms of costs — don’t want every insurer negotiating down to the rest.”
But as health-care entrepreneurs harness the power of social media, they are unlocking other information. And many are making money not through the traditional advertising model, but instead are getting revenue from drug companies, doctors and hospitals.
Here are some players who have jumped into the race to innovate:
Cyrus Massoumi, suffering from a sinus infection, had an eardrum rupture on a flight home to New York after a business trip.
At the time, he was a consultant at the McKinsey consulting firm and had a gold-plated health insurance plan. Massoumi searched for an ear, nose and throat doctor on his insurer’s Web site. Some were booked. Some had moved, died, stopped taking new patients. It took him days to find a doctor.
The incident inspired Massoumi to develop ZocDoc, a tool that connects patients with doctors. In more than a dozen cities, including Washington, users can type in their Zip code, health insurer and the type of doctor they are seeking and then hit find.
The ZocDoc site (and app) pulls up a list of nearby doctors and the time slots available. To book, just click. Each doctor’s profile, including the languages he or she speaks, are available along with reviews from other ZocDoc users.
The service is free to consumers, but doctors pay a subscription fee each month to participate, said Oliver Kharraz, the firms’s co-founder and a doctor.
The company buys commercial databases to solicit doctors who may want to participate, but even those databases are often not accurate, Kharraz said. A team scrubs the data and regularly verifies information such as what insurance a doctor accepts.