Digital health startup uses big data to rethink physician search

“Our approach is to give everyone access to a data-driven product that’s personalized to them,” CEO and Co-founder David Vivero said.

There may have been a time when physician search apps for consumers were a rarity, but these days it seems like everyone and their brother has developed one. Once in a while there’s an acquisition. It’s also an area of interest for insurance companies keen to show they’re taking  a more consumer-friendly approach.

The problem is that the quality varies a great deal. Some are advertising vehicles and others seem more like a copy and paste job where the developers weren’t too interested in getting up-to-date information, such as whether the physicians are still practicing, or if they’re even in the user’s health plan network. Some that include ratings allow physicians to pay to be off the website.

That’s why Amino CEO and Co-founder David Vivero thinks there’s plenty of room to carve a niche in this subsector of digital health and improve upon the current market offerings.It has taken the approach of using de-identified claims data to build a database of every practicing physician in the U.S. and creating an intuitive search tool based on the user’s condition, a desired test or problem.

“Our approach is to give everyone access to a data-driven product that’s personalized to them,” Vivero said in an interview.

“One of the nice things we do is what we don’t do. Practices can’t sponsor their way to the top,” he said. “Lots of businesses combine advertising with their product. The stakes are so high but that means the level of trust is low…
The point for us is to not acquire audiences in an inorganic way.”

Amino and the app, which just made its debut last month, is the product of two years of research. Vivero, who previously worked for Zillow, said it surveyed 50,000 consumers about how they make decisions on the doctor they see.

“Most talk to a friend or family member to get a referral because they’re looking for unbiased information without an ulterior motive,” he said. “We’re swimming in an ocean that’s incredibly deep. “We would like to influence the conversation at the kitchen table of which doctor to see.”

I tried it by entering a random search term, “anxiety” — perhaps I was thinking of an impending deadline? After entering my location, age, sex, and health plan, I was prompted to select my preference for a male or female doctor and asked how far I was willing to go. Although family practitioners and internists were the most common responses, I also got suggestions for a cardiologist and a neurologist. Another search, this time for “dementia”, produced a variety of responses as well.

Each response allows you to see a breakdown of the most common conditions the physician treated patients for over the past four years. It’s not perfect, but it was a nice balance of information. An algorithm processes  the user’s data and factors in the doctors in the user’s general vicinity.

A growing part of the business is to include in procedure searches decision factors. Users can see whether a doctor’s rate for a given procedure is higher than, lower than, or similar to other doctors nearby. It uses statistical adjustments to account for differences in the types of people doctors treat, so a doctor with healthy patients isn’t unfairly compared to a doctor who treats sicker patients, according to its website. Among the procedures it currently does this for include:

• C-sections
• Same-day biopsy after mammograms
• Outpatient hernia surgery
• Laparoscopic vs open hernia surgery
• Outpatient gallbladder removal

Although it provides its app free of charge to consumers, the company plans to  charge employers for big data analysis on population health trends based on this kind of information.

Vivero worked for Zillow after it acquired the online apartment finder business he co-founded and led, Rent Juice, in 2012. He continues to work as a general partner with Red Swan Ventures. Among its healthcare and life science investments are Oscar, aidin and Cambrian Genomics.

Among Amino’s advisers are Joy Pritts, former chief privacy officer for the Office of National Coordination for Health IT; Dr. Robert Wachter, the associate chairman for the Department of Medicine at University of California San Francisco;and Udi Manber, who started a research and development center in the Bay Area for the NIH to improve access to medical knowledge for patients.

Its investors include Accel Partners, Charles River Ventures, and Rock Health.

Photo: Flickr