With $2.6M, BetterDoctor wants to use data to play matchmaker for patients and doctors

If you need to find a doctor, any number of consumer websites — from ZocDoc to Vitals to PatientFusion to even Yelp (s YELP) — can help you search for healthcare experts across a range of specialties.  But San Francisco-based upstart BetterDoctor believes it can do a better job at pairing doctors and patients, and it just raised $2.6 million from investors who apparently agree.

The round, which will be used to expand the team and service, included Silicon Valley investors SoftTechVC and 500 Startups, as well as healthcare investment firm Burrill & Co.

BetterDoctor web
Launched last fall by the former head of Nokia’s App Studio, BetterDoctor takes a data-driven approach to helping people find the best doctors in their area.  Its database features one million doctors across the country (in 60 specialties), including 300,000 who have been “verified” by the company — meaning they’ve met certain standards, from positive consumer feedback and a valid medical license to board certification and a clear malpractice history. Since January, the company said it’s helped 4 million people find a doctor online and regularly sees about 50,000 users a day.

Like other doctor discovery sites, the startup’s website and mobile app let people search for physicians by location, insurance plan and specialty. But cofounder Ari Tulla said BetterDoctor wants to go beyond discovery to “matchmake” patients and doctors.

“Why can you find love online, but not your doctor? That’s become the mantra for the company,” he said.

betterdoctor mobile
So far, BetterDoctor doesn’t appear to have much more data or use many more search filters than competing doctor discovery sites. But Tulla said it plans to add filters for age and gender — so that female users searching for an OB-GYN might see a selection of doctors that skew female, or older users could more easily find doctors closer to their own age.

I like the idea of making it easier for people to find the doctors that best suit their needs and preferences. But while people might feel comfortable enough filling out detailed profiles on online dating sites, getting them to spill their medical needs online could be a challenge. Tulla acknowledged that the company will need to tread carefully when asking users for more information, but said the plan is to “keep it very simple.”

Last year, ZocDoc added an online check-in feature to its doctor discovery and booking site, which gives it access to some of users’ medical information (and could, ultimately, help it better match patients and doctors). But when I asked Tulla if he imagined BetterDoctor trying something similar, he said that approach could lead to “knowing too much” information.

Instead, he suggested that the startup could collect implicit signals about what patients might want in a doctor from other content and features on the site. Now, the service feels more like a searchable database or directory, but it sounds as if BetterDoctor aspires to create more of an online community that patients might want to visit more frequently for medical information or motivational content.

The company, which makes money through lead generation, makes an effort to include every doctor in the country (to provide a comprehensive selection for patients), but only a small percentage of doctors have activated and added to their profiles so far. Since opening up that option to doctors six months ago, Tulla said 5,000 doctors had claimed their presence on the site.