From a user experience perspective, the list of our health care system’s design flaws is seemingly endless. But one time-suck in particular may take the cake for biggest disaster: "I don’t know anybody that hasn’t had some pain waiting in line for access at a health care facility"—particularly an emergency room—says Michael Brody-Waite. He’s the CEO and cofounder of the Nashville-based startup InQuicker, a web service to let patients book urgent care appointments in advance.
The problem isn’t that emergency rooms are designed with insensitivity to patients’ needs, "but [hospitals have] got a whole long list of a million other priorities that they need to worry about because they’re in a very complex, dynamic space." There’s little incentive for health care institutions to innovate on their own, when they’re slammed with customers and often the only players in town.
Online services like ZocDoc have helped made the experience of finding a medical specialist much easier, but InQuicker is the first to tackle the emergency room conundrum headlong. The problems of managing an emergency room were familiar enough to InQuicker’s other cofounder and CTO Tyler Kiley. His dad is a hospital-CEO. His mom is an emergency-department nurse. They both often complained about the disasters of managing patient flow at an ER.
Inspired by reservation booking services like OpenTable and text-based flight status updates from airlines, Kiley wondered if a similar tech intervention could let patients wait for the ER in the comfort of their homes by enabling them to reserve a spot in an ER’s queue in advance and online.
His idea became InQuicker, launched in 2006 and piloted at Kiley’s father’s hospital, Emory-Adventist in Smyrna, Georgia. By 2009 InQuicker was in three hospitals. Today, it serves 165 facilities across 22 states. Hospitals pay a monthly fee to bring InQuicker to their patients, and Brody-Waite says the company expects to bring in $3.5 million in revenue by the year’s end. (He declined to name the fee, but given the stats, it would work out to a little less than $2,000 per month on average).
I tried making a reservation at an emergency room near my house, and it was as smooth as booking an appointment for a spa treatment. I had to certify that my injury wasn’t life threatening. Had I not pressed "cancel" after the fact, the service would have messaged my phone if there was a delay, so I could continue waiting it out at home.
"We’re not a bunch of health care providers building this company. We built it from the patient’s perspective to try to give the patient exactly what they want," says cofounder Waite-Brody. "Indirectly, we end up impacting all these metrics that the hospitals care about," like boosting patient satisfaction and shrinking the number of patients who leave before they’re seen. He adds that doctors can spend less time apologizing about wait times and more time treating patients. And another bonus for the hospital: "Their brand is positively differentiated within their community," Waite-Brody says. "They typically get a lot of positive press."
Ron Yukelson, associate administrator for business development at Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center in San Luis Obispo, California—an InQuicker user since March 2011—tells me to believe the hype. "We’ve gotten nothing but positive [community] feedback on it," he says. "I really believe it gives our hospital a real strategic market advantage."
Indeed, it seems like it should be a no-brainer for hospitals, who can integrate an InQuicker widget into their websites. But the health care industry can be slavish when it comes to innovation. "Our biggest challenge is just the speed of which our idea is adopted," says Waite-Brody. "But we really think this is the future."