Meet the surgeons who want choosing a doctor to be as easy as booking a hotel

News & Analysis

1st December 2015

Imagine if seeing a doctor or having medical treatment was as easy as booking an Uber on a good day. No long periods of waiting, no delayed paperwork, and no being passed endlessly between GP and hospital. Instead you’d go online, compare reviews, see who is available that day, and schedule something for, say, your lunch break or after you finish work.

That is the vision of a new site called Doctify, set up by two orthopaedic surgeons. So far it is mainly London-based, and still in its early stages, but it already has 500 consultants on its books. You can compare their reviews, availability and, soon, their prices — because, predictably, it’s private health care only. (Though the site is keen to work with the NHS.)

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I speak to Dr Stephanie Eltz, who founded the site along with Dr Suman Saha, on Skype. She thinks it will have a universal benefit. Private providers, uneasy about actual advertising, will have a way to reach more patients. Patients will get a more informed choice. And, if people opt to go private, there will be slightly less pressure on the NHS too.

Dr Eltz says patients who might consider a one-off private treatment often feel lost. ‘There is not a lot of transparency in terms of where to go,’ she says. (In fact, the idea for the site came when Dr Eltz struggled to find a doctor to remove a pre-cancerous mole at short notice. When she did find someone, after hours of phoning around, the doctor botched it and left her with a scar on her back.)

If you have insurance, of course, it’s a lot easier — you call up your provider and they will likely give you one or two options. But Doctify allows you to search its database by insurance provider, says Dr Eltz, giving you a bigger choice.

Dr Eltz has a different perspective on health care to your average British doctor. She is from Austria, where, she says, private and nationalised services are more integrated and reviews have become crucial. She says a patient there might object to a referral after checking their phone and seeing the doctor has ‘only 10 reviews’.

This kind of talk sounds a bit wrong to British ears. We don’t like to think of medicine as a commodity. But for Dr Eltz it is the present system that is odd. Booking a trusted taxi or recommended hotel is now so easy — so why not with health care? ‘I don’t want to say that medicine is not different. But all these things where you have to take decisions you have options, solutions, but in medicine, where the choice you make is hugely important and can have incredible consequences and sometimes you need to make a choice quickly, you just don’t have a solution.’

Speaking to Dr Eltz I feel sceptical. She is only trying to sell a business idea, I think. It’s only later, listening to the conversation back, that I realise I agree with her. As we finish talking she has one request. ‘Can you say we are trying to revolutionise things, to improve things?’ she says. I think I believe her.