How does Zocdoc search work?
Search on Zocdoc works similarly to search on most sites that you’re familiar with. Patients enter text into a search bar indicating, for example, a symptom, visit reason, specialty or doctor’s name, along with their location and insurance information. Each patient’s search results are based on what they’ve told us they need and other patient-centric criteria. When a patient does a search on Zocdoc.com or in our app, we use well-established and widely-cited search methodologies to list the most relevant Zocdoc providers for that patient. We also use technology that we call Patient-Powered Search
to analyze millions of searches and translate a patient’s own colloquial language to medical specialties and terminology (for example, “gyno” becomes “obstetrician-gynecologist” but the patient doesn’t need to know how to spell the full specialty name), addressing the common disconnect between the way patients speak about their care and medical jargon. We like to say patients no longer have to be a doctor to find a doctor.
What factors do you take into account in search rankings?
We take into account a variety of factors with each search, all centered around the information each patient inputs. The primary patient-centric factors include: the patient’s visit reason, insurance information, and location, as well as the doctor’s upcoming appointment availability. Patients can also filter to further refine search results based on availability, gender of doctor, and whether they see patients under age 18. Here’s more on each of those:
- Visit reason: Doctors are only shown in search results if they offer appointments for the patient’s given need. For instance, if the patient searches for the visit reason “heartburn”, they will only see doctors that have indicated to us they are qualified to treat patients for heartburn. When patients search for a specialty, e.g. “cardiologist”, the search results default to the visit reason most often booked with such specialty, which the patient can then adjust.
- Insurance network: Each doctor provides us with a list of insurance plans they participate in; if a patient chooses to provide their insurance information when they search, we prioritize displaying doctors that have told us they participate in the patient’s insurance. Moreover, doctors are obligated to provide us with accurate and up to date insurance participation information.
- Location: When we show doctors in search results, we take into account the location of the patient and the doctor. In general, we know that patients prefer to see doctors who are closer to their location, but specific results may vary based on availability of nearby doctors, density of the area (urban vs. suburban), and other patient-centric criteria. The patient can use a map to narrow or broaden search results, and can choose a doctor in any location they desire.
- Appointment availability: We prioritize doctors with openings to see patients seeking care. We know from our research that patients prefer to see a doctor sooner rather than later – the typical patient on Zocdoc books an appointment within 24 hours from the time of the search – though there may be other criteria that prevail, like distance or a particular specialty.
We have dedicated account management teams that help doctors keep this information up-to-date, as we know it changes frequently. More than 6 million patients visit Zocdoc each month, and we are always optimizing these factors to improve the relevance of search results for each patient. We use feedback from millions of data points on user behavior (actions taken on the site – clicks, bookings, etc.), and from groups of patients who have used the same searches, to better understand the tradeoff between factors like distance and availability.
For instance, if a patient searches for a dentist for toothache on weekend night, this may be a dental emergency for which that patient will prefer a near-term appointment, whereas if a patient were to search for a primary care physician for an annual checkup, finding a long-term doctor located close to home may be a top priority, versus other factors like availability.
How often do search results and rankings change?
Search results and rankings (the order in which doctors are listed in a particular set of search results) are unique to every patient, and regularly fluctuate based on the patient-centric criteria described above. Results may also fluctuate as doctor availability changes from hour to hour. This means that each patient searching is likely to have a different experience, and search results may vary from one search to the next. What stays consistent is our patients first approach – search on Zocdoc will always be centered around the patient and optimized to help a patient independently find what they need and book an appointment.
How do you vet doctors before they appear in your search results?
Doctors that sign up to be listed on Zocdoc.com go through our verification process during onboarding. For starters, we confirm they have an active medical license and are in good standing to practice in the state in which their profile is listed. We also confirm their specialty, medical education, and any board certifications listed in their profile. Only then are they approved to join our marketplace. However, Zocdoc does not make any representations about the doctor’s ability to provide medical care.
How do you ensure a provider is qualified to appear in a given search?
As noted above, as part of our provider onboarding process, Zocdoc verifies that each provider has the appropriate specialty qualifications such that the provider can market himself or herself as practicing in that specialty. This verification process includes: a review of the provider’s completion of the relevant training in a specialty or sub-specialty (e.g., a Residency, Fellowship, etc.), possession of specialty board certification (e.g., American Board of Medical Specialties, the American Board of Physician Specialties, or the American Osteopathic Association) as applicable, and membership in applicable societies for that specialty. These verified qualifications inform in which procedures (“visit reasons”) providers practicing in a given specialty are eligible to show up in consumers’ searches on our Marketplace. These specialty and visit reason connections are verified by an independent, third party medical consultant. From the specialty-specific eligible list, each provider then selects the visit reasons he or she is trained and qualified to offer (providers are contractually obligated to convey accurate information regarding their qualifications).
Do you steer patients to particular doctors? For example, do you have protocols to evenly distribute appointments across all or a subset of doctors?
No. Our search is always designed to maximize relevance for each patient and to help patients independently make their own healthcare decisions. As described above, the search results consider patient-centric factors, and the patient selects a doctor based on his or her unique preferences. We do not guarantee a doctor will receive a certain number of appointments, and we do not prioritize certain doctors in order to increase their appointment volume – a doctor’s past performance doesn't dictate current or future ranking.
Can doctors pay to appear more prominently in search results?
No, not for our core marketplace search experience. Our Sponsored Results are a separate advertising product which allows certain participating doctors to be listed above the marketplace search results in paid listings. These advertisements are clearly marked as ”Sponsored Results.” Patients can easily recognize these are advertisements by the labels and visual cues, similar to ads in the search results of other sites, such as search engines. Importantly, the doctor must still remain relevant according to the patient-centric factors mentioned above in order to be shown in a paid slot. Sponsored Results are paid for by the doctor based on a per impression cost, meaning that the doctor is charged when the ad is shown. A doctor’s participation or non-participation in Sponsored Results does not impact his or her ranking in the core marketplace search results.