Cash for Care a Trickle-Down Effect of EMR Dissatisfaction?

Posted on April 5, 2013 I Written By

As Social Marketing Director at Billian, Jennifer Dennard is responsible for the continuing development and implementation of the company's social media strategies for Billian's HealthDATA and Porter Research. She is a regular contributor to a number of healthcare blogs and currently manages social marketing channels for the Health IT Leadership Summit and Technology Association of Georgia’s Health Society. You can find her on Twitter @JennDennard.

By now we’ve all heard about or read of the group of dissatisfied EMR users – hospitals and small-practice physicians who bought into the notion of government incentives – and a better way to deliver healthcare with the added benefit of more efficient processing and payment collection from patients and payers – but aren’t seeing the ROI they initially anticipated. Say what you will about this group, but one thing is for sure: Investment in healthcare IT systems like EMRs have led some physicians to turn to hospital employment, others to close up shop, and yet others to turn to more unique business models such as concierge or cash-only practices.

On the flip side of this change in healthcare delivery is an increasing demand from patients to know just what their dollars are paying for, no matter whether those dollars pay into a monthly insurance premium or directly for services rendered. I wouldn’t say we’re yet at the point where this demand is a trend, but I do believe that as more and more mainstream media outlets cover the debate over healthcare costs and price transparency, more patients like you and me will learn how to ask for costs up front, how to shop around, and most importantly, how to determine if what we’re paying for is worth it.

Entrepreneurs didn’t take long to catch wind of this, and as a result we’re seeing a number of consumer-friendly healthcare businesses pop up. Take Healthpons, for instance. I came across mention of this company a few weeks ago, and was intrigued by its Groupon model for healthcare services. The company offers one line of service for providers, and another for patients. According to its website, Healthpons offers a free portal that allows physicians to market their services at a cash price so that patients can quickly search for said practice and service by city, state, zip, specialty or symptom checker; purchase services and set appointments online. Patients, in turn, can use the portal to search for providers, find the one with the best price, and use a Healthpons discount to pay in advance and make an appointment at the same time.

I chatted with Healthpons co-founder Patty Everette, to learn more about the business:

How do you qualify providers to participate in the program?
We have a system, similar to an insurance company, to review and verify credentials of all providers. This is why we are in a pre-launch phase to validate providers prior to posting their information.

How many providers have signed up?
We have validated about 6,000 providers and many more have enrolled.

The website mentions the patient portal will go live in all 50 states in 2013 – can you give us a more exact timeline?
June 2013 is our target launch. All validated providers will be posted, however, there are certain geographic areas that have a higher concentration of providers, such as the Southeast, Northeast and California. Each month we will continue to add providers as they enroll and are verified.

What types of providers is healthpons best suited to (primary care docs, dermatologists, cosmetic surgeons, etc.)?
The first provider registered was an ENT. We have pediatricians, surgeons, primary care, orthopedic, ENTs, family medicine and more. It is best suited to any provider willing to provide reasonable cash prices, willing to share content and to help people become more informed about what they do and how they are qualified to do it. Our focus is on transparency – and developing relationships.

How are you going to avoid the Groupon problem of too many vouchers sold, and providers subsequently becoming overrun with customers they are inadequately staffed to handle (typically resulting in poor customer service and no repeat patients)?
Our business model is not like Groupon. We make money primarily from any upgraded, subscription-based services or advertising.

All providers control the number of visits they can sell per service. We provide a guide to each provider as to what is recommended to sell. The consumer can see the provider’s availability prior to purchasing a visit. Also, we will monitor their sales and service comments to ensure quality and service is maintained.

I know there is more to share as Healthpons is developed with great depth. We have used multiple panels of providers and their office managers to preview our systems as we have developed. We took an idea we had and asked providers what they thought – what they wanted – then we asked our customers (patients) what they would like to get out of our platform. We bridged the concepts to bring doctors and patients together for an online network marketing experience to de-mystify medical services and pricing.