“This is my personal vendetta against the broken healthcare system,” Ari Tulla tells me, mid-pitch, while standing on the sidewalk after a recent TechCrunch event in Redwood City. He’s talking about BetterDoctor, a startup he co-founded last year after struggling to find the best, local physicians in San Francisco during a series of family medical emergencies. Ari left his position as the head of Nokia’s App Studios not long thereafter, teaming up with Nokia’s Chief Architect Tapio Tolvanen to pursue BetterDoctor.
The co-founders built the startup at Founders Den, debuting at the entrepreneurial clubhouse’s Demo Day back in February. After six months of “furious Bay Area beta testing,” Tulla and Tolvanen are today launching their nationwide physician’s search service, available for end users via web app and for doctors via its “Doctor Dashboard.”
Tulla tells us that, in his eyes, discovering and booking the best doctors remains one of the most significant problems in everyday healthcare. Traditionally, people are forces to go to their insurance company’s website to find out which doctors are available in their local network. Naturally, patients then want to verify the quality and credentials of those doctors. After struggling to do that, you might make a phone call only to find that the doctor is either unavailable or doesn’t happen to be accepting new patients. The process can take hours and often ends in frustration laced with expletives.
Tulla attributes this, in part, to the size of the healthcare market, which is enormous. There are some-one billion doctor visits each year, 250K+ practices and 1,500 insurance plans. Americans are eager to find and book doctors online, yet options are limited and practices, on the whole, have been slow to adopt online booking and electronic health records.
There is also a disconnect between information and incentives, as few servies currently match medical needs, payment types, quality of care and availability at a national scale, he says. What’s more, incentives tend to skew towards prescription and procedural care rather than preventative medicine and routine checkups — the exceptional case rather than the everyday.
So, BetterDoctor’s team of eight health hackers have developed web apps that aim to make doctor discovery and booking both simple and transparent. As to how it works? Users simply select what kind of doctor they’re looking for, and pick their insurance plan. The service then presents a list of verified physicians in their locale. Users can also sign in with Facebook to save/bookmark, share and recommend their favorite doctors.
This is a great baseline for doctor discovery and search, but to really go beyond a basic Yelp or OpenTable for doctors — which the space naturally demands given the seriousness of consequences (a bad dinner, compared to a botched diagnosis) — quality has to be the primary focus for BetterDoctor. The co-founder says that, typically, marketplaces in this vein often suffer from ill-conceived business models or incentives, in that they offer paid real estate in search results, which can result in the worst performers paying extra bucks to become more visible in listings or results.
To prevent this, BetterDoctor is an invite-only service for doctors — only those who meet the quality criteria make the cut (though clearly there needs to be more transparency and checks in balances in this regard). Tulla says that the team has made quality its top priority, especially because price plays a small role for insured consumers, who only pay the $20 to $50 co-pay — making quality all the more important.
BetterDoctor has also focused its attention on creating a user experience that’s optimized for mobile use. Tulla says that he believes we are just in the very beginning stages of the mobile evolution, and future smartphones and tablets will change the way we access and interact with the world — and healthcare. [I am firmly in agreement with this point -- more exhaustive analysis here.] With two decades of experience building smartphone apps and games on staff, Tulla says that he thinks that BetterDoctor is well-positioned to take advantage of the mobile revolution in healthcare and offer the best mobile user experience.
To date, the startup has raised $650K in seed funding from a group of doctors and angel investors (including Steve Wolf, Jason Johnson, Philip Settimi MD, Charles Lim MD, Devon George, Erik Engelson, Joseph Andresen MD and Chris Burggraeve) and is in the process of raising its series A financing.
The co-founders also tell us that additional search and national physician data will roll out over the course of the week (or two).
For more, find BetterDoctor at home here.