It’s valuable to know that you can get a $50 mammogram in Queens as opposed to paying $607 for one on E 102nd Street in Manhattan. New York’s ClearHealthCosts is going to find out just how valuable that information is.
The company, spun out of an entrepreneurial journalism program at The City University of New York, mixes big data – namely, federal government information on Medicare prices – with hand-carved data: ClearHealthCosts’ staff calls and surveys medical practices to get their actual prices.
Founder Jeanne Pinder says her end goal is to become a Kayak.com for healthcare costs: the best, go-to source for consumer pricing on medical procedures anywhere. Pinder relaunched it last month after a few months of testing, recently presented at the New York Tech Meetup, and is planning to raise about $750,000 to help expand to 35 cities by the end of 2013. The site currently surveys select medical procedures in the New York City area and San Francisco.
“The problem we’re trying to solve is that no one knows what anything costs in healthcare – it’s the last big opaque marketplace,” Pinder said.
Data-driven price-comparison sites have been among the hottest digital health investments in 2012. Castlight Health, which provides costs and physician information largely for businesses and insurance companies,and GoHealth, which provides insurance pricing, blew the curve for fund-raising this year by landing $100 million and $50 million investments, respectively. And there’s a thick, scattered group of other players in the same space as ClearHealthCosts, including SnapHealth, Healthcare Blue Book, Change Healthcare and FairCareMD.
The big investments reflect the big opportunities in this space. Healthcare reform and technology, among other things, are increasing lower costs, transparency and the role of empowered patients who will comparison shop. The time has come for these kinds of services, whether they’re a B2B exchange or a direct outreach to consumers. But it’s an open question which business has the right model – and whether they will be able to supplant traditional insurance companies and health systems who also offer some of the same information.
Pinder thinks the ClearHealthCosts approach of personally calling and surveying hospitals, private practices and other health providers sets it apart from other sites already out there. ClearHealthCosts has launched with information on about 30 of the most common procedures including some MRIs, pap smear, tests for sexually transmitted disease and colonoscopies. They then dug through what was largely dirty data (wrong addresses, merged practices, etc.) and tried to get a diverse sample of providers based on their size and location, while also picking facilities that represented different socioeconomic parts of the cities they launched in.
Visitors find the costs by entering the exact name of the medical procedure or government medical code to locate the costs. The site lets you search by state, region and zip code.
The site has anywhere from six to 10 different pricing options for initial procures they chose to highlight in their two current markets: San Francisco and Greater New York City (see an example on the right, which you can click to enlarge). You can still use the site to search for any kind of procedure anywhere in the country. It will display Medicare prices only if ClearHealthCosts hasn’t done any surveying in that area.
Pinder is banking on her belief that healthcare is at a data tipping point. If ClearHealthCosts can get enough information and traffic, providers would begin voluntarily reporting their numbers and provide an even greater critical mass of prices for patients to compare. An increasing number of states are requiring hospitals to report this data and Pinder said some practices are already coming to her site and reporting their prices.
Pinder also said she’s ready to act like Kayak, which pulls information from multiple sites to display a critical mass of prices and will then transfer visitors to those sites.
“We would be really excited to see any and all solutions to this problem of transparency,” she said. “It’s the biggest problem we face today as a nation. We may not have the only answer. But for right now we’re going direct to consumer. That’s a pretty good solution.”
With its initial data in place, ClearHealthCosts will spend the next year building its revenue model. It will seek out advertising and sponsorships from anyone who wants to be top of mind when patients are buying healthcare. The company will also consider a premium subscription model, events and resell anonymous customer data to those who may want insight into patient behavior.
Pinder and her team are not your traditional digital health entrepreneurs. She spent two decades at The New York Times working both as a journalist and human resources executive. She developed the idea for the business through an entrepreneurial journalism program at CUNY, which helped her get $54,000 in grants to launch the company. Her advisory board features digital media moguls including Jeff Jarvis, director of the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.