People are pretty comfortable with seeking out the lowest hotel rates or rental cars online, but would you be comfortable picking out your medical provider that way?
The Washington Post recently highlighted the case of an out-of-work Seattle handyman who had a knee injury that prevented him from doing his business. They say Francisco Velazco, 35, couldn't cover the $15,000 surgery quotes he was getting from traditional medical providers, so he went to Medibid.
Medibid is an online company that's been operating for four years connecting self-paying patients and doctors. Benefits for patients may be lower prices, and Medibid says doctors don't have the hassle of dealing with insurance companies which can sometimes underpay or be very delayed in making payments.
The patient pays a fee of $25 for posting the surgery they are requesting and the doctor pays a fee of $50 if they are accepted as the winning bidder. Once the patient and doctor are matched up, Medibid steps out of the equation.
It worked out for Velazco. The Washington Post says he got a surgery for $7,500 and was able to get back to work. But KIRO Radio's Tom Tangney is a little skeptical about selecting a health care provider like you'd select a hotel online.
"It's one thing to buy things online in bidding wars on things that don't really matter. The question is do you want to take those kinds of risks with your health?" says Tom. "There are some dangers. They're not as well regulated, obviously, as hospitals are and/or doctors covered by insurance because those hospitals and insurance companies vet those doctors."
But co-host John Curley says an online marketplace like we find at travel sites with reviews from people who've actually paid for the service might actually be a good direction for medicine to go in.
"Think about three or four bad Yelp reviews can take an entire restaurant down. People that care the most will respond the most and will be able to give honest feedback as to how their doctor and the operation went. And then you're going to be able to search this online. You'll have more information this way than you would through the present system that is now in place right now."
Tom says hospitals and insurance companies already review doctors and that if a provider has too many complaints, they won't keep them in the system. With Medibid, Tom says it's really about doing that research yourself.
"Medibid is very up front in saying we do not verify the quality of this doctor, what we will do is we will give you the doctor's medical license. Then if you want to do research on the doctor yourself and find out if people like him or don't, there's a way to check it."
Regardless of the consumer having to do the legwork, John says it seems the service could have real benefits for consumers.
"More choice will drive price down and in the end, the consumer wins and they get their knee fixed at the same time."
While Tom says the cheapest option may not always be the best option, he does acknowledge "it could be preferable to the most expensive, which is what you could get stuck with otherwise."