Priceline for health? PokitDok launches on mobile

Comparison shopping is commonplace when it comes to buying airplane tickets, electronics and other big ticket items. But a growing number of startups are trying to make it easier to bring that practice – and mentality — to healthcare.

One of the newer cost-conscious startups, PokitDok, launched a mobile app this week that lets consumers search for providers in their area, compare options and even attempt to name their own price.

As my colleague Om Malik tweeted this morning, it’s not so unlike a “Priceline for health” that lets you get quotes directly from providers in search of one that matches your budget.

“Not everyone is going to give you what you want,” said co-founder and CEO Lisa Maki. “But just like on Priceline, [consumers] can get a little more information and providers, in a secure channel, may be willing to give you a better price.”

Launched by Maki after her own frustrating experience with the healthcare system, PokitDok provides a web-based community and marketplace for health and wellness. On the site, people can communicate directly with physicians, personal trainers, massage therapists and other specialists, as well as purchase health products and treatments. In July, it opened in beta and raised $1.3 million in seed funding.

Search for providers, name your price

PokitDokThe app released this week is intended to complement the website, Maki said, and give people an on-the-go way to search for local providers and get prices.

Say you want to find an acupuncturist in San Francisco, through Pokitdok you can scroll through a list of practices and request a quote by indicating your budget, payment method, your health needs and the kind of practioner you’re looking for. Within 72 hours, PokitDok said, providers will respond with a price.

As of now, PokitDok’s community includes one million health and wellness providers nationwide, some of which have opted-in directly to the site and some of which are listed thanks to a licensing deal with a secure database of national physicians and healthcare practioners.  The company declined to share its number of users but said they’ve seen strong, organic growth from consumers nationwide. Given the newness of the app, early downloaders won’t see many reviews left by other users but as more consumers join the marketplace, Maki said, the goal is for users to not only benefit from the price quotes but the information provided by peers.

Startups bring comparison shopping to health

As healthcare costs climb and employers increasingly shift to high-deductible health plans to keep their own costs down, Maki said PokitDok is intended to give consumers a way to find the cheapest prices. Those with high-deductible plans or no insurance at all stand to benefit the most from a financial perspective, but even those with insurance and lower-deductibles could be helped as well.

On the provider side, she said, many doctors are willing to give patients better deals if they’re paying out of pocket or through an HSA (health savings account) or FSA (flexible spending account). PokitDok helps them overcome the challenge of finding those patients.

It’s not the only startup trying to bring transparency to the black box of healthcare expenses and the growth in these kinds of companies is obviously a boon to consumers. HealthInReach is another direct to consumer site that lets people search for providers and find online deals for services. It targets the uninsured and those paying out of pocket and negotiates deals with the providers. Castlight Health and ClearCostHealth are a couple of other comparison shopping services for healthcare made available to patients through their employers.

Since raising its seed round this summer, Maki said PokitDok’s team has grown to include 11 full-time staffers, including Eric Baily, the former creative director for the healthcare practice at Frog Design and Bryan Smith, who previously served as senior data scientist for Idle Games.