September 18, 2008
Helping Choose the Right Doctor
By Joan Verdon
HACKENSACK, N.J. - 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.
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 Mr. Rothschild will get.
Q. How would you describe Vitals.com?
A. 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?
A. 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.
A. I tore my Achilles (tendon) in a basketball game. I went to the doctor, and while I was 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.
Q. Did you leave the hospital and right away start working on the Web site?
A. 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.
A. There are a couple of others. Our main competitor charges $30 for a report.
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."
A. Doctors can edit their profile, and we have people 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. What about alternative medicine? Could I search for a naturopath or acupressurist?
A. 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.
Originally published by Joan Verdon The Record (Hackensack N.J.).
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