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Zocdoc launches new feature to guide patients to the right doctors

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The new ‘guided search’ feature aims to make it easier to match with the appropriate provider. Oliver Kharraz, the company’s CEO and founder, talks about the new tool.

Some patients struggle to find the right doctor for them, and Zocdoc is touting a new feature to simplify the process.

Zocdoc, the online healthcare marketplace, has recently introduced a new “guided search” feature to make it easier for patients to find the right doctor for them. More than half of patients (57%) say they’ve shown up to a doctor’s appointment only to learn that the physician wasn’t right for their needs, according to a new nationwide survey released by Zocdoc Tuesday.

With the tool, patients can enter their symptoms on Zocdoc and they’ll be matched to an appropriate provider. Visitors won’t need to know if they need a psychiatrist or a psychologist. If a patient is looking for a primary care doctor, they’ll be asked if it’s for a physical or specific health need, and then they’ll be directed to a list of choices, such as abdominal pain or flu-like symptoms.

Oliver Kharraz, MD, the CEO and founder of Zocdoc, spoke with Chief Healthcare Executive® about the new feature.

“The way that the guided search works is that we ask the patient a series of really easy-to-answer questions that sort of follow common sense,” Kharraz says. “They are posed in the language of the patient.”

Kharraz adds that the goal is to reduce some headaches for patients, who have gone through hoops to get an appointment, including waiting “on hold with the soothing but annoying hold music.” Patients get upset and angry after finally booking an appointment, and perhaps waiting for weeks to see a provider, only to find out that the doctor doesn’t have the right expertise for their needs.

“They waited for the appointment day to come,” he says. “They waited in the waiting room, only to be frustrated.”

In addition to improving the search process for patients, Kharraz says the guided search feature is also going to have benefits for providers. According to the Zocdoc survey, which was conducted by Censuswide, roughly 1 in 4 doctors (24%) say they regularly see new patients that aren’t good matches for their expertise.

With the new guided search, Kharraz saysk “Obviously for the client, this means they get a much, much better, pre-selected set of patients that really fits their medical expertise.”

“Providers can accept every patient that matches with them on Zocdoc,” he says. And for patients, “the search results are really relevant for them,” he adds.

In addition to providing better matches, the new tool helps doctors serve patients better.

“The provider has more information about why the patient is coming in,” Kharraz says. “They can actually prepare better ahead of the appointment by soliciting some of the pertinent information, about some of the details.”

Zocdoc says the early results indicate that the new feature is paying dividends. In early testing, the tool is showing a 14% improvement in the conversion rates of searches leading to appointments.

“That's a double-digit improvement, which just shows that patients are much more confident that they are seeing the right care,” Kharraz says.

Some specialties are seeing much bigger gains in early testing. The site has seen a 100% increase in bookings from patients that are seeking pregnancy care.

Kharraz says he suspects the uptick in bookings for pregnant patients is the additional comfort that comes with a search with a “high emotional involvement.”

“When you're even a little bit uncertain about whether the doctor you're going to see is the right one, you probably will end up still picking up the phone and going through the cumbersome scheduling process,” Kharraz says. “And I think what we're helping consumers do is to free up that mental capacity and uncertainty associated with that and truly allow them to select among the providers that are correct for them.”

“Part of the promise of technology is to focus,” Kharraz says. “Take away from the drudgery and administrative work and really focus on providing pertinent information and then allow the patient to use their mental capacity to make the right decision for themselves.”

Zocdoc’s survey also sheds more light on red flags for booking appointments.

The majority of patients (55%) say the biggest red flag from their perspective is poor communication from providers. Two-thirds of patients (66%) say they’ll end their relationship with their doctor if they feel their concerns are being taken seriously.

Doctors must be able to do more than diagnose a condition and offer treatment, Kharraz says. They must be able to talk with patients in ways they can understand.

“I think in this day and age, it must be part of the skill set of any provider to make sure that he can communicate appropriately for the given patient,” he says.

Doctors, meanwhile, say their biggest issue is when patients are when patients are frequently late, or lack an interpersonal connection.

Censuswide did an online survey of 1,004 adults between Jan. 10-12, and a separate poll of 971 doctors between Jan. 8-16.

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