Will People Bid Online for a Nose Job Just Like an Airline Ticket? PriceDoc Thinks So
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for a quadruple bypass coronary surgery out of their own pocket if they can get an insurer to pay, there is potentially money to be made in cash-only health care. Cosmetic surgery like nose jobs, dental braces, or teeth whitening are often the sort of things that aren’t covered by insurance and could be considered commodities that people can shop around for online like they would a hotel room.
The PriceDoc business model is all about the doctors and dentists. It charges the health care provider a $50 monthly fee to be listed on PriceDoc.com, which is sort of like advertising in the Yellow Pages, Bradley says. The medical provider offers some information—where he or she went to medical school, types of procedures offered, office hours—which prospective patients can search through in a database built on ZIP codes near you. If the medical provider chooses to accept bids from patients, like Priceline, then the patient has the right to print out what is essentially a coupon from their home computer which they can redeem at the time of service, Bradley says. The site is free to consumers, and all they have to do is register and provide their phone number and e-mail he says.
Right now, most providers aren’t accepting bids, so they just offer a sticker price that allows consumers to shop around. So far, most of the consumers sound like they are kicking the tires, but aren’t ready to dive in just yet. More than 1 million searches have been performed on the site, while just 10,000 people have registered with the site so far, Bradley says.
The numbers are growing, however. The site went live in the Seattle area in April 2009, and expanded to other cities around the country last November, Bradley says.
The key to making this business model work is in enticing more and more physicians and dentists to join PriceDoc, making it a more valuable resource for patients who want to shop around, Bradley says. Young doctors who are just building their private practices are one of the targets, because they need to build up their roster of regular customers, Bradley says. “Access to new patients. That’s what doctors are really looking for,” he says.
Of course, medical and dental care isn’t just all about price—things like bedside manner still count, and you can’t get a read on that from a YellowPages ad, or from PriceDoc. While consumers can set a bid price, and the physician might agree to it, this doesn’t mean there’s a binding agreement between the two parties, Bradley says. If a patient comes in, say, for braces, and the dentist sees that the patient also needs a root canal, then it’s going to cost more. And just because a patient thinks he might need knee surgery, and wants to bargain on the price, the doctor really has a much better idea than most patients whether a surgery is necessary or not.
It’s possible in the future that PriceDoc may seek to take a percentage cut of the transactions between doctors and patients in the future, on really expensive procedures, Bradley says. But for now anyway, the company is more about attracting more patients to do searches on its site, which in turn will entice doctors to start paying to advertise there on a recurring basis.
Before we hung up, Bradley encouraged me to do some searching myself to check it out. So I did a couple weeks later, typing in the ZIP code of my office, 98104, and searching for adult braces (no, I’m not the in the market.) It gave me one result in Washington state in Bonney Lake, which is 31 miles away. I would definitely need a GPS to find it.
So yeah, I think it’s fair to say this database needs to get a lot deeper before it becomes so useful the masses start piling in. But these are early days, and it’s certainly a big idea that many people seem willing to at least test-drive. “We want to bring more transparency to the market,” Bradley says. “We think we can better connect doctors and patients.”
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