I've written enough articles on transparency tools, mobile-enabled provider search capabilities and physician rating systems that, as an insurance technology journalist, I feel that the health industry is in a pretty good place with their consumer-facing web sites.
However, as a consumer, I know that the industry still has a long way to go. Health insurers' web sites are still, in many ways, limited. At least in my experience, I've found basic tools such as provider networks directories to be out of date and incomplete. Has functionality improved drastically over the past five years? Sure, but, as start-ups like ZocDoc.com show us, there's so much more than can be done.ZocDoc, founded about a year ago, is sort of like an OpenTable.com for health care providers. Individuals seeking treatment can search the ZocDoc site based on location, specialty area and, perhaps most importantly, whether the physician accepts your particular insurance plan. Using the site, individuals can find open times and schedule appointments online.
In public comments, ZocDoc's founders have been very critical of insurers' web sites, and that's likely because the start-up company is positioning itself as an alternative source of information to insurer's member web sites.
In my opinion, some of that criticism is a bit off base. While I'm sure there are many insurer sites that are poor, there are just as many that are very effective. The ZocDoc technique of picking out particular aspects of particular insurance sites doesn't really accurately portray the industry as a whole. It's a bit like using the Kansas City Royals as an example when criticizing how poorly Major League Baseball teams are performing.
However, the basic premise of what the ZocDoc team is saying does ring true. Members should be able to expect more from their insurer's Web sites. If people can make reservations at a restaurant online, then they should be able to just as easily book a doctor's appointment.
It's too early to tell if ZocDoc will ultimately find success, as there are many challenges ahead - mostly around developing a critical mass in terms of provider participation. Regardless though, this should serve as a wake up call to insurers: The technology exists to drastically expand the functionality of carriers online provider directories -- already the most popular online tool for most insurers.