Booking a doctor online is getting competitive, as medical startup Practice Fusion eyes ZocDoc’s territory

doctor lab coat

Two of the biggest names in the growing world of health tech are about to go head to head. On Tuesday, San Francisco-based Practice Fusion, which offers doctors free electronic medical records software, plans to announce that it is launching a new site for booking doctor’s appointments. With its new service, Patient Fusion, the company isn’t just reaching out to patients directly for the first time, it’s moving into territory dominated by another big health tech startup: ZocDoc.

Since launching in 2007, Practice Fusion has attracted more than 150,000 doctors with its free web-based service for managing patient information, medical billing and other aspects of practice management. But Patient Fusion is now opening up its information to the public for the first time, enabling patients across the country to search for doctors by specialty and location, read reviews from verified patients and instantly book appointments.

“This is a place where, as an individual patient, your health starts and ends,” said Practice Fusion founder and CEO Ryan Howard.

patientFusion_searchThe company said Patient Fusion lists information for more than 27,000 verified doctors in the U.S., includes 1.5 million verified doctor reviews (an average of 14 per doctor) and has 3 million open appointment slots available for April alone. While other doctor review sites like Vitals.com and Healthgrades, as well as Yelp, enable anyone — even those who have never seen the doctor — to leave reviews, Patient Fusion only allows patients it knows have visited the doctor to review their experience. ZocDoc similarly provides verified patient reviews.

The company also estimates that its pool of doctors is three times as large as ZocDoc’s. ZocDoc doesn’t share the number of doctors who pay to list availabilities on the site, but says it’s available in 1,700 U.S. cities and that 2.5 million people use it a month. In major cities like New York, patients might not see a big difference in coverage between ZocDoc and Patient Fusion, Howard acknowledged. And, certainly, it could take Patient Fusion a while to build ZocDoc-like name recognition among consumers. But he added that in more remote parts of the country, Patient Fusion could provide more more doctors and more available slots.

Another benefit for patients who pick Patient Fusion over other sites: they’ll be able to get instant access to their personal health records. While some doctors on ZocDoc or other doctor discovery and booking sites may use electronic medical record services that enable the easy exchange of medical records, patients using Patient Fusion will not only be able to book appoints online, but access digital lab reports, view real-time updates to their records and potentially benefit from other kinds of digital communication.

While ZocDoc charges doctors about $300 a month to list their availabilities on its site, Patient Fusion is free to patients and doctors. It eventually plans to serve advertising (as it does on Practice Fusion) but its bigger play is aggregating even more data about patient conditions, medication, treatment outcomes and more. That data (de-identified and in aggregate) gives it an interesting view of health trends and could be valuable to pharmaceutical companies and other health care players.

According to a survey of health entrepreneurs conducted last November, both Practice Fusion, which has raised $70 million in venture capital, and ZocDoc, which has raised $95 million, were considered two of the health tech companies likely to file for an IPO next.

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