The company’s chief executive and founder talks with Chief Healthcare Executive® about the coming year, and a new Zocdoc report on what patients want.
Consumers are seeking more convenience, and that’s going to play a bigger role in their healthcare decisions in 2024, Oliver Kharraz says.
Kharraz is the CEO and founder of Zocdoc, which released a new report today on what healthcare consumers are seeking.
In an interview with Chief Healthcare Executive®, Kharraz talked about some of his expectations for the coming year. He says the desire for more convenience is “one of the big trends” to watch.
While many patients want long-term relationships with their doctors, more patients will look to urgent care providers for pressing needs.
He’s also projecting that patients are going to be making more decisions based on affordability and cost.
“I think the other big trend that I'm seeing is actually consumers are watching now how much stuff costs, given the continued rise in co-pays and deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses,” he says.
More Americans will opt for cash-pay services, which can be less expensive in some cases than using they’re health insurance.
“They're learning that many times things are cheaper when you forego your insurance coverage altogether,” Kharraz says. “I do think there is a huge trend towards this.”
Providers should be more transparent with consumers on pricing, Kharraz says, adding that it may pay unexpected dividends.
“When we talk to consumers, we actually find that they're frequently overestimating costs,” he says. “So putting a price tag on it … might even be beneficial for the providers of these services in the first place.”
Even as patients want more convenience, they are showing they prefer to see doctors in person, Kharraz notes, and he expects that trend to continue. Many patients prefer telehealth for mental health needs, he adds, but for other healthcare needs, they’re willing to go to the doctor’s office. Most want a provider close to their residence, as nearly 80% of physical appointments were within 20 miles of the patient.
In 2023, only 18% of appointments booked on Zocdoc were for telehealth, and a bulk of those appointments were for mental health clinicians. When mental health visits are excluded, only 8% of Zocdoc appointments were virtual, according to the report. Across most specialties, patients using Zocdoc overwhelmingly preferred in-person care.
Even with patients using virtual care, most chose a provider within 20 miles of their residence, which Kharraz says is telling.
“If the visit actually requires an in person follow-up, they don't want to start over,” Kharraz says. “And so, it's one of the most interesting bits about the patient psychology here, that they revealed in my mind, indirectly. They do want these long-term relationships, and they're a lot more loyal than the entire transactional-ization of healthcare suggests.”
Patients showed loyalty to the providers they found on Zocdoc, with 81% of patients sticking with their initial doctor for follow-up appointments.
Patients prefer using telehealth for mental health needs, as 86% of mental health visits booked on Zocdoc involved telehealth appointments.
Looking at 2024, Kharraz projects a greater demand for mental health services tied to the 2024 presidential election.
“What we've seen during the last two presidential election cycles is that mental health usage is likely going to go up,” Kharraz says. “This probably reflects a very strong emotional involvement with the outcome of these elections for broad parts of the population. And so we expect this to happen again.”
Given the rising popularity of weight loss drugs, Zocdoc also expects to see more patients booking appointments for those drugs.
With so much attention on the industry on artificial intelligence, Kharraz also projects that more providers and health systems will be turning to AI solutions to help their workforce. He sees wider adoption of AI tools that will automatically document conversations between doctors and patients, alleviating some stress for physicians.
“I've gotten really, really positive reports on the ability of AI to make providers more productive,” Kharraz says. “I think digital scribes, digital note composure and all this, I think there's a significant percentage of doctor time that can be freed up in the near term.”
If AI documentation tools can save some time for providers, Kharraz says there should be more thought about how this time could be used. Providers could potentially see more patients, or they can also choose to spend more time with the patients they have, or look for ways to help their staff have more work-life balance.
In looking at an increasingly competitive healthcare landscape, Kharraz suggests that hospitals and health systems need to become more nimble and adopt changes more rapidly.
“I think the future needs to arrive, not with the speed of their own systems and their own decision-making processes, but with the speed that is brought to them by their emerging competitors,” Kharraz says.
“In a rapidly changing industry, it is important that you get to shape what's happening, versus being a recipient of that change.”
Here are a few other interesting tidbits from Zocdoc’s report on patients and those using the app.
Shopping around: The average user looked at 26 provider options before booking an initial appointment on Zocdoc. Patients can be loyal, but they’ll do their homework.
Mostly women: About two-thirds of those booking appointments on Zocdoc were women, and 65% of female bookings went to female physicians. The majority of men (59%) also opted for a male doctor.
Picture perfect: Those doctors displaying 1 to 3 photos had 2.8 times as many Zocdoc bookings. Those with four or more photos had 4.8 times as many bookings as the average provider.
Hospitals help: Providers with a hospital affiliation received three times as many bookings as those who did not have one.
Going mobile: The number of appointments booked by patients using mobile devices was 20% higher than desktop users.