In a bid to capture hospital and health system business, appointment scheduling site Zocdoc announced that its customers can now connect the site to their Epic EMRs via an API. The updated Zocdoc platform targets the partners’ joint customers, which include Yale New Haven Health, NYU Langone Medical Center, Inova Health System and Hartford HealthCare. And I’ll admit it – I’m intrigued.
Typically, I don’t write stories about vendors other than the top EMR players. And on the surface, the deal may not appear very interesting. But the truth is, this partnership may turn out to offer a new model for digital health relationships. If nothing else, it’s a shrewd move.
Historically, Zocdoc has focused on connecting medical practices to patients. Physicians list their appointment schedule and biographical data on the site, as well as their specialty. Patients, who join for free, can search the site for doctors, see when their chosen physician’s next available appointment is and reserve a time of their choosing. If patients provide insurance information, they are only shown doctors who take their insurance.
As a patient, I find this to be pretty nifty. Particularly if you manage chronic conditions, it’s great be able to set timely medical appointments without making a bunch of phone calls. There are some glitches (for example, it appears that doctors often don’t get the drug list I entered), but when I report problems, the site’s customer service team does an excellent job of patching things up. So all told, it’s a very useful and consumer-friendly site.
That being said, there are probably limits to how much money Zocdoc can make this way. My guess is that onboarding doctors is somewhat costly, and that the site can’t charge enough to generate a high profit margin. After all, medical practices are not known for their lavish marketing spending.
On the other hand, working with health systems and hospitals solves both the onboarding problem and the margin problem. If a health system or hospital goes with Zocdoc, they’re likely to bring a high volume of physicians to the table, and what’s more, they are likely to train those doctors on the platform. Also, hospitals and health systems have larger marketing budgets than medical practices, and if they see Zocdoc as offering a real competitive advantage, they’ll probably pay more than physicians.
Now, it appears that Zocdoc had already attracted some health systems and hospitals to the table prior to the Epic linkage. But if it wants to be a major player in the enterprise space, connecting the service to Epic matters. Health systems and hospitals are desperate to connect disparate systems, and they’re more likely to do deals with partners that work with their mission-critical EMR.
To be fair, this approach may not stick. While connecting an EMR to Zocdoc’s systems may help health systems and hospitals build patient loyalty, appointment records don’t add anything to the patient’s clinical picture. So we’re not talking about the invention of the light bulb here.
Still, I could see other ancillary service vendors, particularly web-based vendors, following in Zocdoc’s footsteps if they can. As health systems and hospitals work to provide value-based healthcare, they’ll be less and less tolerant of complexity, and an Epic connection may simplify things. All told, Zocdoc’s deal is driven by an idea whose time has come.