We’ve all been hit hard by coronavirus in many different ways. At my clinics lowest point, business was down 70%. I am not the only practice who has been dealing with a drop in patient volume. In order to survive, offices are turning to increase advertising to get more patients in the door. I’ve advertised in a few areas before. Today I would like to focus on one that I was on for over a year before parting ways, Zocdoc.
When I started my company I received a solicitation to join ZocDoc. The salesman seemed surprised when I told them I have never even heard of them. When I started my practice I wanted to grow my practice quickly. I decided to give them a try to build my practice.
Today I am writing an unpaid review of ZocDoc for those who are thinking of advertising here. My disclaimer: ZocDoc did not pay me to post this review, is not affiliated with my practice anymore in any way since I no longer advertise on their platform, and is trademarked by them. This is an opinion piece only of my experience and what its like to advertise with them online.
Choosing To Advertise Online
Starting up my practice, the biggest worry I had was how to get my name out into the community. I had told friends and other physicians that we were open doors but I knew this would not be enough.
When I sat down to think where I could most effectively spend my advertisement dollars, I realized that I would only start with methods where I could measure cost of customer acquisition easily. This means that print and billboards were out as it is hard to gauge engagement and conversions.
I chose to start with Google Ads which seemed to be a success. I also advertised on Yelp, which was a disaster. About 3 months into my practice, I received a call one day from a salesman from ZocDoc and decided to give them a try.
The Beginning With ZocDoc
I chose to join ZocDoc after a conversation with a salesman from a cold call I received.
The initial terms for paid advertisement were $300 per month per doctor. They told me I could expect about 9 new patients a month with their service in my area. Since the website is also based off of reviews, they allow you to handout paper reviews to 10 patients and fax those then to get the first review started. I loved that idea since getting the first reviews can be tough. Props to ZocDoc for allowing this!
I submitted my 10 patients 5 star reviews and I was off running.
We opened our schedule and pretty soon had patients starting to book. Often times, bookings were for the upcoming 24 to 48 hours. Not many bookings were for future appointments beyond this.
I would estimate that for the first 3 months, half of my new patients from advertising came from Google advertising and the other half came from ZocDoc.
It seemed like a good tool to grow my practice and brought in some revenue to get things up and running. Well, it not only seemed like a good way to grow my practice but in the beginning I was bringing in a good number of patients to grow my practice. So far I was overall happy with the service.
Quickly I noticed that the patient demographics were the exact opposite of Google advertising. Average age of my patients who found us through Google advertising was above 50. The average age of person who found me on ZocDoc was 21-35 years old.
The younger patients were much more tech savvy and I loved that we were tech savvy. This made it easy for them to fill out the forms that ZocDoc provided to them with all the insurance information or past medical history / medications. This also made them very friendly to using the portal. Patients who book via ZocDoc have sent me about 40 times more private messages through the portal (that I can not be paid for) compared to patients acquired other ways.
However, I was noticing another problem with patients from ZocDoc.
Most of them were in our office for low level visits. The also often times booked as an annual physical but in reality wanted to talk about a new problem. This lead to a lot of unhappy patients once they received their bill from us. It ended up taking a lot of time to explain to these patients why just because they booked as a physical, does not make it a physical. If they come in to talk about diabetes or high blood pressure management or start on a new medication, that is not a physical.
They were under the impression that since they booked as a physical it was a “free” visit. This lead to a lot of unhappy calls from patients.
We also noticed that patients were often times not coming back or would no show much more frequently. Our no show rate was about 3 times that of people who booked via google ads. We reached a point where most of our visits via ZocDoc ended up being for ADD medication even if they booked for an annual psychical. At one point, 70% of our bookings via ZocDoc was for ADD/ADHD medication refills even if they claimed to book for an annual physical exam.
Changes To Advertising Fee Schedule
ZocDoc has since changed to a fee schedule where you pay $300 a year and multiple physicians can be listed under one account in the same practice. Every new patient that books via their platform for primary care they charge the practice $35. It does not matter if the patient does not show up, you still receive a bill for $35. There is some fine print about people who cancel right away after booking… but overall you will be stuck with a bill for every new patient that books. Practices can set a monthly allotted amount for how much they want to spent on new bookings.
For specialist it can be up to $100 per booking via ZocDoc. It seems that they are possibly planning on rolling this out nation wide over time.
Refusing To Put Their Booking Link On My Website
ZocDoc offered to waive any booking fees that come via a link that they provide on your website. In essence it seems like a good idea because they can book for free.
However, the doctors office is building the SEO (search engine optimization) and bringing patients into their website. Then your practice is directing them for free to ZocDoc platform where they can then register and find another doctor if you are not available at a time the patient is interested in.
For me that was a hard no. I was not willing to pay to be on ZocDoc and pay to bring patients to my website then funnel them to their website where they then have all my patients data free to book easily with another doctor if they wanted too.
We Would Have Almost Lost Money For Each Booking
Accounting for no shows, low CPT codes, non payment from patients with high deductible plans…. if we would have stayed on with this new plan, we would have potentially lost money by staying with ZocDoc or hardly made a profit.
Lets take an example of possible income from this example and how much $35 cuts into the doctors revenue.
|15% No Show||$5|
Assumptions based on the average primary care practice:
99385 for annual physical seen via ZocDoc new booking = $120 from insurance
Overhead at 50% = $60
ZocDoc Fee $35 per new patient booking
My no show rate for ZocDoc was hovering around 15% which I factored in as above since I’m not only losing money by sitting around but now paying ZocDoc for that referral that the patient no showed to.
Subtracting non payment for high deductible plans (30% of our high deductible plans for ZocDoc patients are more than 90 days delinquent in payment). This is often times because they book as an annual physical but it is not a physical and will then owe us their copay. Patients seem to think they should not pay since they booked as a physical and were under the impression the visit was free. That is the feedback we have been hearing from patients who book via this platform.
The Follow Up Argument
Follow ups are currently free for booking. So, the argument was made by ZocDoc that the $35 is a cost of patient acquisition and the rest of follow ups were more profit in my pocket.
While this is true, over a year our average follow up rate was about 6% of patients who booked on the platform ended up being repeat patient visits. The vast majority were not follow ups. Once you factor in no shows and still having to pay the ZocDoc fee, it just did not make sense anymore for my practice.
While ZocDoc had a flat fee model, I actually didn’t mind using their service. Our patients by far that booked via ZocDoc were younger and most were very tech savvy. It was not a perfect system but it was a very good system. Once they switched to a fee per new booking, the service no longer made financial sense for us….so we left. For very new clinics or clinics struggling to fill up their schedule for primary care, I can see how this may be beneficial.
We certainly do not miss keeping two calendars and syncing our EMR schedule with ZocDoc schedule. Leaving ZocDoc has made our life a bit easier. It was nice to fill up an empty slot in our clinic when we were a bit slower but now that does not seem to be an issue.
I do think that as telemed takes off and as most EMRs now have ability to book online, that this service may become a bit less useful with time.