How Zocdoc is giving power to patients: 4 questions with CEO Dr. Oliver Kharraz

In 2007, one of Zocdoc's soon-to-be co-founders ruptured his eardrum and found it challenging to get an appointment with a physician. That problem led three individuals — Cyrus Massoumi, Oliver Kharraz, MD, and Nick Ganju — to launch what is today known as Zocdoc, a New York City-based digital health marketplace whose health systems business doubled in 2014 and 2015.

Zocdoc takes the patient scheduling problem and flips it on its head. According to a 2014 Merritt Hawkins survey on physician appointment wait times, the average cumulative wait time to see a physician was 18.5 days. But the typical Zocdoc patient sees a physician within 24 hours, according to Dr. Kharraz, Zocdoc's CEO. Through Zocdoc's platform, patients can find nearby, in-network healthcare providers and book appointments online.

Becker's Hospital Review spoke to Dr. Kharraz about Zocdoc's place in the industry, the future of health IT and the "Unsick Day" it offers employees.

Note: Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Question: What's driving Zocdoc's growth?

Oliver Kharraz: When we launched, the American healthcare system had a very different structure. Individual practitioners dominated, and two out of three doctors practiced in such a setting. We earned our stripes in that universe by connecting patients to a multitude of small doctors. As the industry has evolved, so have we. We now focus on health systems as our primary target market. We've grown from five health system clients to nearly 70 today.

What's driving this growth is precisely this shift in the industry. If you look across industries, you'll hotels.com, kayak.com, opentable.com — this inventory management issue is a universal problem. But there's always a solution that helps with it. In healthcare, this is Zocdoc.

Q: In May, Zocdoc integrated its patient scheduling platform with Epic's EHR. What was the integration process like and how is the relationship working?

OK: It's been great to work with Epic. Even beyond Epic, we have built Zocdoc to integrate with hundreds of apps, calendars and practice management systems. Health systems have long-term consolidation plans. The reality is because we have done work with these implementations, we are frequently the preferred way to complete a network.

Q: Zocdoc is also known for its company culture and benefits. It recently introduced the "Unsick Day" to encourage preventive care. Why does Zocdoc value benefits like this?

OK: It's hard for employees to get away from their desk even to have lunch, let alone to go visit the doctor. Even though we're a company focused on patients every day — the phrase "Give Power to the Patients" is painted in large letters on our walls — our own employees weren't going to the doctor to get their own preventive care. Both as a physician and as a CEO, I thought, "That needs to be fixed."

We started to ask, "Why was that happening? What are the barriers?" The answer is surprising, given who we are: Work gets in the way. This is a leadership task. The "Unsick Day" is much more of an exercise that needs to be seen as explicit permission to go get your check-ups.

When you think back to access experience, we shouldn't let [long waits] hold us back and should make sure the investment companies have in employee wellness actually bears fruit.

Q: What are a few trends you see emerging in health IT and policy in 2017?

OK: There has probably been a state of uncertainty for a long time. Post-election, we are still trying to figure out what the details of healthcare are going to be. The one thing that's certain is patient choice will play a major role in the future. I wouldn't be surprised if health systems realized they can't cost cut their way to success and try to position themselves as systems that are easily accessible to patients they want to attract.

[Zocdoc] function[s] well in a universe where patient choice comes into play. For us, it's been equally uncertain and interesting.

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