At a regular medical check-up the other day, I found out my health insurance provider had "recategorized" my appointment from "routine" to "specialist." As a result, I walked in to see the doctor with a sense of impending doom at the bill that was to follow.
Seeing a medical professional is not exactly a soothing experience at the best of times. But to not know the cost as the minutes tick away before someone comes in to check your blood pressure is rather unnerving.
Which is why ZendyHealth—the name-your-price medical procedures site—is growing so fast. Co-founded by Kimi Verma and Dr. Vish Banthia, the site allows patients to negotiate with medical providers and settle on a fee before slipping into a medical gown.
As the company prepares to expand into Asia and add new services, PCMag spoke with Verma and Dr. Banthia by phone recently to get the details.
Kimi, you'll look familiar to anyone who loves Bollywood movies. Was it the physical pressures of being on screen that inspired you to start a Priceline-for-procedures type business?
[KV] It was partly that, but mostly something I realized as a businesswoman, after I got my MBA back in India at a University of Mumbai affiliate. No matter how wealthy people are, they don't like to overpay for things. Due to sites like Amazon, which offer transparency, everyone is now price sensitive. Also, when it comes to family health costs, the mother is usually the decision maker, and she wants to ensure her family gets good quality care, but at a good price.
Dr. Banthia, why did you feel the need to emerge from surgery and start a digital platform?
[VB] Yes, I'm a surgeon by training and have been in practice for over 10 years, but I kept noticing the increasing pain points on both the providers and patients' side. There's little price transparency in healthcare, and people were carrying higher and higher deductibles—meaning that they would have to shoulder more out-of-pocket costs before their insurance would kick in.
As a result, patients were and are often negotiating healthcare bills—much like people do in just about every other industry. I knew there had to be a tech-based marketplace solution—the system wasn't working—so I wanted to go into business to solve a macro problem that affects virtually everybody.
What's the most popular procedure? Is it still more cosmetic or dental than medical? Or are you now seeing a shift?
[KV] The most popular is still skin maintenance, especially with the newer developments in cosmetic enhancements, like wrinkle relaxers such as Botox and fillers. But we're also seeing a rise in more complex cosmetic procedures such as fat reduction/liposuction.
[VB] What's interesting for us is we're seeing a difference between organic traffic, which brings us mostly customers seeking cosmetic and dental whitening type work, as opposed to partner traffic which is showing an increase in demands for MRI and CT ccans, because those are so costly.
You grew ZendyHealth through several of the famous incubators, including 500 Startups, StartX (Stanford Health) and, most recently Cedars Sinai Techstars Health accelerator class of 2016. What's your business model now? Is it "pay to play" for providers to be listed on ZendyHealth?
[VB] We now have thousands of medical providers listed on our site, across 46 states in the US. We don't charge either providers or patients/customers to use ZendyHealth; our monetization is based on a transactional model.
So you're taking a cut of each transaction as it occurs on the ZendyHealth site?
[VB] It's our secret sauce, so I can't go into the specifics or incentives—and there are healthcare regulations that we abide by—but most providers appreciate that consumers and patients are going online to find doctors and make decisions with online tools. In fact, most of our early investors were doctors who said they were thinking about doing this a few years ago and wondered why they didn't do it themselves. A platform like ZendyHealth is a very clear way of attracting new patients without cheapening your brand.
Because "publicly speaking" a medical provider isn't advertising that they're filling in spare capacity with cut-price procedures?
[VB] Exactly. We're protecting their brand while helping them maximize their revenues.
Is there a data science B2B play in your future?
[VB] We are collating an enormous amount of data of what people are spending and on what. Right now we do analytics on that to improve our platform, but we have considered spinning data as a whole and in an anonymous fashion into a separate division as a B2B play for the medical industry as a whole.
So what's next for ZendyHealth?
[VB] On May 16, we are launching a "Pick Your Provider" feature so that users have more value/benefit and choice when it comes to finding out prices for various health, dental, and cosmetic services. Then we're expanding to Asia next, potentially starting with India. The health insurance world works differently over there and people are especially price-conscious. We think India will be less of a focus on cosmetic and more general health and dental over time as the medical market is so fragmented.
I was in New Delhi on business a few years ago—not a laptop to be seen—all mobile devices.
[VB] You're right, our business there will be mobile-first from day one.
[KV] But it'll be built on the same principles. ZendyHealth is putting the Zen back into healthcare bringing medical and financial peace of mind to both doctors and patients.