September 11, 2008
Helping Choose the Right Doctor for You ; Vitals.Com CEO Found Inspiration in the OR
By JOAN VERDON, STAFF WRITER
How many chief executives can say they were inspired to start a business while lying on the operating table? That's how Vitals.com was born, but we'll let Mitchel Rothschild tell you about it.
Rothschild is CEO of MDx Medical in Lyndhurst, the parent company behind Vitals.com, a Web site that provides consumers with information on 720,000 doctors. The site, introduced in January, contains information about medical training, board certifications, publications and malpractice cases. It also lets consumers post comments about doctors. Vitals.com has a staff of 14 and revenue "in the seven figures" that's as specific as Rothschild will get. (Interview condensed and edited for space.)
Q. How would you describe Vitals.com?
We view ourselves as a matching site, like eHarmony or Match.com. Our job is to match patients with the doctor that is right for them. Right for them means the right type of doctor, at the right distance, within the right insurance, with the characteristics they choose. Some people are snobs about education, other people want to have good hospital affiliations. Some care about language, some care about good bedside manner. Some want doctors that are very experienced, others want doctors that are less experienced but are more cutting edge.
Q. How did you get all this information?
We spent a year and a half compiling it, from literally tens of thousands of sources. We took a Google-esque approach we went out on the Web and found hospital information, medical-school information, association information, practice information. We went to every state and federal organization that licenses doctors. We're up to 1.4 billion pieces of information about doctors.
Q. I hear you have an interesting story that inspired all this.
Yes. I am a weekend warrior who is totally not convinced that I'm the age I really am.
Q. Which is?
Fifty-three, according to the government, 23 according to my own measure. So I tore my Achilles [tendon] in a basketball game. I went to the doctor, and literally on the operating table, he said, "Well, I'm pretty excited about this operation. I don't get to do that many of these in a year." I wasn't going to turn back at the time, but that was obviously information I felt I should have known at the time. It is amazing when you talk to people how little information they have about what are arguably the most important decisions they're going to make in their life.
Q. Did you leave the hospital and right away start working on the Web site?
My background is as a marketing and database guy, and I couldn't believe that in such a finite set there's only 720,000 practicing doctors in this country that you couldn't get detailed information about them. Talk to most people, they need a doctor, they're going to open their provider directory, they're going to go to Dr. Aardvark, because he's the first on the list. That's not the way to pick your medical care.
Q. There must be other Web sites that do the same thing as Vitals.
There are a couple of others. Our main competitor charges $30 for a report.
Q. How many hits do you get?
The day after Labor Day, we got 50,000 hits. We're close to about a million a month.
Q. Can a doctor come to you and say, "I don't want you putting on the Web site that I went to Podunk University. I don't want people to know where I went to medical school"?
Doctors can edit their profile, and we have people here who deal primarily with doctor issues. Having said that, there are two basic elements to the site. One is a directory of every doctor, and the other is we help you find a doctor. Doctors can choose to extract themselves from the finding element they can say, "I don't want any new patients." However, if somebody wants to check up on a doctor, we'll have them in the database. Some facts a doctor cannot edit. If a doctor went to Guadalajara, they can't write that they went to Harvard.
Q. But can they take off Guadalajara?
No. They can take off a particular hospital that they're no longer affiliated with. They can take off procedures they no longer do. They can take off areas of expertise.
Q. Are you making any revenue yet?
Q. How much?
We're two years old, and we're a seven-figure revenue company and growing pretty nicely. Our business is a combination of established revenue streams, such as advertising and publishing, and newer-wave stuff like online appointment setting. One of the big initiatives we have is to be the intel inside for a lot of other sites - to be their doctor finder.
Q. Are you someone who goes to a lot of doctors? Thinks about this a lot?
I'm not a cyber-chondriac.
Q. That is a problem - people go online and scare themselves with what they find.
I do believe that one of the big weaknesses of our society is that preventive medicine is way underutilized.
Q. What about alternative medicine? Could I search for a naturopath or acupressurist?
We are now mapping five new areas of specialization - alternative medicine being one, faith-based medicine being another. It's fascinating. If your doctor comes to you right before surgery and says "Come, let's get down on our knees and pray," for some people that's incredibly reassuring, for others it's completely the wrong thing to say. That's why we say get the doctor that's right for you.
Mitchel Rothschild's 'Vitals' statistics
Titles: Chief executive officer of MDx Medical; founder of Vitals.com; founder of marketing firm Raspberry Red; and founder of Web retailers Awards.com and TuffRhino.com.
Education: Bachelor's degree from Queens College; master's degree in business administration from Columbia University.
Expertise: More than two decades of marketing experience, starting with magazine marketing and then moving into educational films and videos and Web sites.
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