Friday, December 12, 2008
Interview with Vijay Goel, Healthshoppr
Story by Benjamin F. Kuo
We recently ran into Los Angeles-based Healthshoppr (www.healthshoppr.com), a startup looking to help change the way people shop for health care. The company just opened up a beta of its site Thursday. Vijay Goel, MD, the firm's founder, told us about the company.
How did Healthshoppr come about?
Vijay Goel: I found it kind of strange that when you're looking for a health care professional, or someone to help you achieve your health goals, you know less about them than you might know about buying a television, a car, or other item. So what we've created is a structure to personalize your choice of a health care provider, same as you have a choice of a car, TV, or anything else. Because of that, the choice becomes much more targeted to your needs. We see ourselves as providing comparison shopping for healthcare appointments.
There's lots of other health care sites on the web, what's different here?
Vijay Goel: My background is I started as a physician, and wanted to build a preventative medicine practice--to keep little kids from getting sick. When one was starting to get sick, I wanted to bring them back into a health lifestyle. But, the thing I saw in medicine--as a system--is they don't reimburse for that kind of care. You can't make a profitable practice from people who are not quite sick or on the road to never getting sick. To answer that question, I went into consulting at McKinsey, and worked with lots of health care insurers--and I realized that our system commoditizes our healthcare. In the insurance system, we don't know who is doing a great job, we don't know who is providing great service, and are locked into the payment system, where we're paying for the procedures--not for who is spending time with you. Medicine has evolved from where the primary care practitioner was a pillar of the community, to where instead that person is now running on a hamster wheel to try to get you in and out of their office in eight minutes.
What we do is make a connection between reviews, and comparisons of what a person actually does, to what we charge from it--so we can move away from the one-size-fits all payment system into a retail payment system, with a Walmart and Bloomingdales and a range of prices and range of service levels you as a consumer can select for yourself.
So what's the business model here?
Vijay Goel: What we do is we are selling tickets. We aggregate a number of providers interested in reaching a greater audience, and every time they do, they get a customer, and that customer is paying us a ticket price, where we're taking a percentage and giving the rest to the provider.
The medical sector is not known for readily adopting technology, how are you handling that?
Vijay Goel: The current approach with healthcare, is that an insurance company or the government creates a set of rules, and dictates that down to providers. So you see a problem in the market, where some people adapt quickly and everyone else doesn't know what to do, because the rules are not clear most of the time, and everyone has to implement it all at once. We're taking a different approach. The typical way you see technology adopted is that a few people are willing to try it are the early adopters. As the system grows, it changes and responds, and becomes better, when the midterm adopters come on, and eventually the laggards have to come on. With our service, the market will dictate this. If someone wants 2am appointments, there will be someone willing to fill that gap. The market will dictate.
Do you have any issues with privacy of healthcare information on the site?
Vijay Goel: We're starting out in the wellness space, so it isn't a problem. I'm expecting that our understanding of privacy will evolve over time. There are lots of rules, because the insurance companies are the same ones dealing with privacy, in addition to actuarial concerns like how much they should pay. I think as you move toward a system where people are in control of their own dollar, that understanding will shift, similar to the banking industry.
What are you going to offer in the wellness space?
Vijay Goel: We will be offering massage therapy to start, and pretty quickly after that will add personal training. Then, we'll go into fitness classes like pilates, yoga, and kickboxing. What we really want to do is to allow people to book services, with times that aren't offered today, with instructors who are really superb at a particular discipline. What we've heard in the field, is if you don't have a gym, you're less likely to go. If you've paid, you've made a commitment to show up, your experience will be good, and your 90 percent more likely to show up. What we are doing in wellness is first to get those people to show up.
What's the geographic reach of your service, and plans?
Vijay Goel: Wellness always seems to emanate from Southern California, so we're planning to take that same approach.