A Spoonful of ZocDoc Makes the Medicine Go Down

No matter where you stand in the health care debate, there is no denying the epidemic of utter helplessness and chaos when it comes to…

No matter where you stand in the health care debate, there is no denying the epidemic of utter helplessness and chaos when it comes to managing our health.

While we can’t always control who will accept our insurance (if we are lucky enough to have insurance) or how our bodies may betray us, we can take steps towards understanding self care. Often, these efforts take the form of rigorous online research: Pill Identifier for that off-the-market sleep aid, Drugs-forum for the homeopathic regiment, or WebMD to research a new RX.  Still, self-diagnosis can lead to disaster and it's hard to be knowledgeable about such a complex subject as oneself.

In the wake of crisis, it is rational to suggest we all strive for prevention and the best care possible.  While there is nothing easy about disease or simple about the health care system, setting up a doctors appointments can be both. ZocDoc is a website and app that allows patients to search for doctors according to location and insurance.

“We’ve tried to make our site as simple and easy to use as possible,” said ZocDoc rep Allison Braley, “so that it’s immediately usable for anyone, no matter their level of comfort with technology.”  You can see every available appointment and book online at any time. Better yet, you can  see reviews - which are written ONLY by patients who have visited that doctor. The app, in this regard, is great for setting up hassle-free appointments. It also reduces the waste of cancelled appointments by making them instantly available to others.

In fact, ZocDoc, said Braley “allows patients to get access to the ‘hidden supply’ of appointments they never would have been able to book otherwise, like the 10- to 20-precent of appointments that are cancelled last minute by patients and never re-booked. Doctors are able to see more patients this way, and everybody wins." It's a secretary who works for multiple doctors in your zip code, never overbooks or tells you to "please hold," and is never unsure if the doctor takes your insurance.  (This frees the secretaries, who work so hard to keep offices in motion, to focus on answering specific patient questions, a service not yet available on the ZocDoc site or app.)

Braley added that ZocDoc not only addresses current concerns but also stems the tide of a catastrophic future. "As health care reform legislation goes into effect (if the Supreme Court allows)," she said, "30 million newly insured patients will enter the system. We’re already waiting nearly three weeks on average for an appointment with a doctor, which is unacceptable.”

The less obvious effect of the service is the slight way it adjusts our view of the duty we have to ourselves. We can access a multitude of doctors across a range of specialties. We can see their pictures, bios, and education. The responsibility to choose whom to go to is in our hands, not those of an insurance manual or student health center. The diversity of these smiling faces in white coats and esoteric specialties adds accountability and can therefore encourage patients to not only seek second and third opinions, but also to take alternate routes when solving medical problems. The patient must think critically about what ails them and how they want to go about seeking treatment.

There are numerous examples of doctors getting it wrong, not because they haven't been hitting the books, but because they can never know our bodies as well as we do. They don't understand what side effects will hinder our lives and which are worth the cure. They have prejudices and frames just like everyone else. By increasing the transparency between the health care community and patients, ZocDoc can help shatter the walls of too narrow diagnoses and hold a megaphone up to miscommunication. It also allows doctors access to  what patients say about their services. Most important, It encourages patients to seek out  primary care physicians that they can build relationships with - if a symptom does strike, they can be referred to the correct specialist.

ZocDoc, despite being fairly new, is well-respected. It has the potential to provide data to medical marketeers as well as reach out to those who lack the resources to seek medical attention. Perhaps a bilingual option or encouraging doctors to participate in pro bono services could raise awareness about ZocDoc while addressing the fact that most people aren’t lucky enough to doctor shop. In the vein of preventative medicine,  ZocDoc could include an education component where the best reviewed doctors help the public understand their biology by writing in depth articles or simply nutrition tips to increase the impact of the site.

Dealing with a mystery diagnosis or even just needing an RX for a run of the mill condition can engender feelings of helplessness so rampant in a country that has gone through the looking glass in terms of institutional trust. While ZocDoc can't cure that directly, it can offer a dose of empowerment.

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