- Online medical care scheduling startup Zocdoc is back-pedaling on a new pricing structure after pushback from physicians on Facebook and a Change.org petition.
- The proposed move, first reported by CNBC on Tuesday, was set to roll out Oct. 1 and involved trimming the annual cost while adding a booking fee for each new customer, even ones that later canceled. Zocdoc recently piloted the new arrangement with some New York doctors and had informed additional doctors in Washington, D.C. that their prices would change starting July 1.
- Physicians complained the change would jack up their Zocdoc costs and argued that the booking fee would put them at odds with state and federal laws that bar providers from paying third parties for referrals. "Zocdoc is basically forcing doctors to engage in professional misconduct," Peter Chien, a New York City-based dermatologist, told CNBC.
Moves like this could be a growing source of tension as more providers farm out scheduling tasks and more patients opt to use websites and apps to find doctors and manage appointments.
Last fall, Zocdoc released research claiming the average wait time for new patients using the app in the second quarter of 2017 was 7.6 days, versus the national average 24.1 days. Physician wait times were the longest in Boston, averaging 52.4 days. By contrast, Zocdoc's average appointment wait time in the Boston area was 13.6 days.
The online petition takes issue with the new referral fee. While Zocdoc would waive the fee for Medicare and Medicaid patients, for whom referral fees are illegal, it puts doctors in an ethically uncomfortable zone and ignores jurisdictions like New York state, which also prohibits referral fees, the petition says.
"We think in principle it should be illegal to charge this referral fee for anyone," the petition states. It urges providers to cancel their Zocdoc accounts if the company goes forward with the referral fee.
In a statement, Zocdoc acknowledged that some providers have questioned the new pricing model and said it has paused the Oct. 1 rollout pending discussions with clients and key stakeholders.
"Our current aim with pricing changes is to lower the barrier to entry so more provider can participate in Zocdoc's marketplace, in order to improve patient access and choice — particularly those in underserved and rural markets," the statement reads. "Under the model we are considering, we estimated that the majority of providers in New York would pay the same or less than under subscription pricing and that more practices would be afforded the opportunity to join our marketplace."
However, Chien told CNBC the change would increase his Zocdoc bill seven-fold, a cost his low-margin dermatology business could not afford.