Fraudulent doctor reviews are a real problem. Ted Chan experienced it first hand while trying to help a loved one find a doctor online. In Ted’s words: “We found reviews that we thought were false or fake… so thought there was a opportunity to really represent the patient”.
And that’s exactly what Ted did when he launched CareDash in 2016. His goal was to create a healthcare provider directory and review site that was committed to transparency for both doctors and patients. Ted’s idea has resonated and CareDash has grown from 10,000 unique patients visits per month in March of 2018, to over 1,000,000 today.
On this episode, you’ll learn how CareDash identifies fraudulent doctor reviews and what they do about them. You’ll also learn how CareDash uses good SEO practices, online advertising, and quality content to drive their incredible growth.
This episode was recorded at the HITMC 2019 conference in Boston, MA.
Read the interview transcription below.
Launched in 2016, CareDash is a rapidly growing healthcare provider directory and review site devoted to improving the patient experience.
With a deep commitment to transparency for both healthcare providers and patients, CareDash uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to weed out fraudulent reviews. CareDash is based in Cambridge, MA and is backed by Link Ventures General Partner David Blundin.
Lean more: https://www.caredash.com/
About Ted Chan
Founder and Chief Executive Officer, CareDash
A skilled innovator, strategist and social entrepreneur, Ted Chan has more than ten years of experience in management consulting and information technology solution architecture. He has dedicated his career to creating user-friendly digital solutions, data science, and analytics to transform everyday challenges facing consumers.
Ted created CareDash after noticing two troubling trends on healthcare review sites: healthcare providers serving certain segments of the U.S. population were underrepresented and many existing sites accepted financial compensation in exchange for removal of negative provider feedback. These practices have made access to information about the quality of provider care more difficult for large segments of Americans. Utilizing his background in creating consumer-facing technology and personal interest in social entrepreneurship, Ted created CareDash to address the need for transparency and improve the quality of healthcare information available for all Americans.
Prior to CareDash, Ted founded Upward Mobility, a leader in mobile education delivery with more than 150 apps across six platforms, including PracticeQuiz.com (one of the world’s most popular free test prep sites) and DynamicPath.com. Upward Mobility provides cost-effective educational materials to over 3 million users a year. Ted has also served as a management consultant with Cartesian, advising C-level executives on strategy in the telecom, media and technology space.
Ted is regarded as an industry leader in the emerging mobile health market, publishing one of the most widely cited market research reports on the mobile health industry, titled “mHealth: Taking the Pulse Report.” As part of the Sana mobile health non-profit at MIT, he also helped create an award-winning open source EMR and telehealth program now used around the world.
Ted received his Bachelor of Arts in History and Psychology with High Honors from Swarthmore College, and MBA from MIT Sloan School of Management.
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Don: You’re listening to the HCBiz Show! Podcast, dedicated to unraveling the business of health care. I’m your host Don Lee, and I am recording live today at the HITMC conference. That is the Health Care IT and Marketing Conference. It’s happening in Boston.
So I’m sitting with the CEO and founder of CareDash, Ted Chan. Ted, welcome to the show. Ted, what does CareDash do?
Ted: CareDash is the fastest growing doctor review site in the US. Last month, we had over a million patients on the site, including 70,000 outbound calls to health care providers. We’re taking a little bit different approach to this market.
I had a loved one who was looking for health care, and we found that the existing sites didn’t meet all of the needs and had lots of data points we felt– reviews that we thought were false, or fake. I thought there was an opportunity to really represent the patient and I think that message and that approach has resonated.
Don: Interesting. So what was it about the reviews that you were seeing that made you feel like they were fake?
The first thing we look at is there’s probably about a million health care providers who would ever get a review. The leading sites will say they have somewhere between 2 and 10 million reviews. So just if you look at a statistical analysis of that, you wouldn’t think that you would see providers with 50 or 100 5-star reviews.
Once you start running a site, you realize that those reviews will come in a week, and many from come from IP addresses that are offshore.
Don: Interesting. And you can tell that by looking at the sites where they came from?
Ted: Yeah. Well, we collect every review behind a registered login. So we have the email addresses. We’ll see that they’re disposable emails. And then we’ll see those reviews on other sites. Even though in that case, a really simple filter could get rid of them.
Patients are making decisions off of that data and there’s a lot of harm that could come out of picking the wrong health care providers, as you know.
Don: Gotcha. So your family member’s looking for the doctor. You’re looking at this, you’re thinking a lot of this is basically baloney, this data that’s out here. So, I see things all the time that I’m like, I don’t think this is right, but then I don’t go start businesses around them.
So what made you take that next major step to say I’m actually going to do something about this?
Ted: There was a lot of good fortune. At the time, I had started a health media content company that had a couple million dollars in revenue. Niche topics, great content, good following, audience with reach that trusted us.
Just consumers, just people interested in reading about new and different discussions of things. My lead investor, David Blundin, was actually a seed stage investor in a company called TripAdvisor
The way that Dave looks at vertical businesses, meaning consumer marketplaces where people search, you have a query about a product or service that they’re looking for, is that there’s a time and a place where the data begins to get good enough so that you can build a really good search engine around it and improve the way that consumers, in this case patients, find a product or service.
Dave having invested in a travel company, he pointed out travel happened at the dawn of the internet, specifically, because the data to match those queries was already available and structured. I remember my mom making a travel reservation, hotel, flight, to go to Hong Kong – the travel agent did it over dial up in a basement in Chinatown in 1995.
So dawn of the consumer internet – travel websites disintermediate the travel agent and put the power in the hands of the consumer and businesses are off to the races. Health care data is really so messy, all patients really want to do is research the provider they want to see.
Yes, they want to see reviews, but they also want to see information on cost, quality, transparency, right? They want to know if they’re eligible to see that doctor, which is way harder to do than it should be. And then you want to schedule the doctor. We feel the pieces are coming together to do all of those things. I think we have a good vision of how we want to approach it. And that’s what we’ve been focused on building.
Don: Gotcha. So right now– so you’re– obviously, you’re collecting these reviews. And who are you serving as a business, who are your customers?
Ted: I would look at CareDash as a marketplace. We serve patients with trying to help them find a provider, and give them the right information and the access point. We generate revenue through our sponsored listings model. If it sounds like TripAdvisor, it’s because it’s modeled on TripAdvisor.
Since we’re committed to building the review set in a transparent way behind a registered login, it’s going to take time. But I think we’re 12, 18 months away from a case where if you looked at CareDash, the center of Boston or Cambridge where our office is, you would see 20, 30, 50 4 and 5 star dentists within three miles of your office, or of your apartment. We’ll put a sponsored listing at the top of the search results. We don’t remove negative reviews whether the health care provider’s a customer in our marketplace or not.
This is a fair and transparent way to handle things. It balances building consumer trust with a monetization model that allows us to actually run a business and not be a non-profit.
Don: Is there convergence where you provide scheduling as part of the platform?
Ted: We have a specific vision on that front. So, for instance, we will never offer scheduling as a product.
EMRs have scheduling systems, right? A doctor can use PatientPop or ZocDoc. We don’t want to be a walled garden. So we think that a health care provider should use whatever (scheduling) system they think is right for their business process. And we will send that click to directly to that scheduling system. We think that’s the best patient experience.
Don: Yeah, don’t reproduce something that’s already working.
Ted: Exactly. And we’ll certainly want to pull in 3rd party scheduling, to the extent partners make it available. We want to use APIs to make the scheduling visible directly on our site. So you can see the actual appointment inventory.
Don: Sure. Yeah, so if I’m a doc and I already use Zocdoc, then it would be easy for you to like turn that on, if you will.
Ted: Well, if anybody from Zocdoc is listening, right, we’d love to frame in the Zocdoc widget, because we think that’s the best patient experience.
Don: Gotcha. That makes sense. So right now then, you don’t want to be a walled garden. Does that mean that like the reviews themselves, are those open to everybody to come and see?
Yes. The reviews are open. Just you can’t send in a review without identifying who you are with an email. We do by nature of the health care space need to protect the identity of the patient.
Unless they want to declare who they are, which in the case of positive reviews, many of them do. We do our best to inform a patient reviewer that they should be careful about revealing who they are if they don’t want to.
Don: So how do you appeal to the patient then? How do you get people to come to this site and put a review on your site, as opposed to going and doing it on Google My Business or one of the other sites?
Ted: That’s a challenge. The first thing we did when we started building this business, we wanted to build a really good and trusted brand. We’ve succeeded and started to win eyeballs and win trust from that perspective.
We have our own organic base of people who are looking at the site. And to them, we’re trusted and provide a good experience. The other thing that we do is we advertise a lot. We spend a lot of our startup dollars putting CareDash where we think people might be just after they do an appointment.
Don: So given that we’re at the HITMC conference, this is a very interesting thread that we can pull on a little bit. What have been– out of the, let’s say, paid advertising options that you’ve used, what have been the most effective at getting a patient to engage with you?
Ted: Right 90% of our traffic is– well, 90% of our traffic is either organic search, which includes some Bing, or a Google AdWords. Those are the areas where we’re strong.
Don: OK. So you got Google AdWords going for you, and then you said a lot of your content is pretty popular. What types of content are you putting out there, and who are you targeting with that? That’s the patients, right?
Ted: That’s something I’m excited about talking about because five years ago when I started the company that eventually became CareDash, I said we were a good glorified health blog. And now I’m proud all of our new content is medically reviewed.
We have a very specific approach to it. We write our content to be simpler. We don’t think another WebMD clone is a need. We do think digestible, high quality and medically reviewed information for patients is an area that is underserved. So that’s where we are hoping to take our content business.
Don: Give me an example of a recent post that would be targeted at a patient.
Ted: For instance, we had an article on multiple myeloma. I was reading some of the other articles out there. Lots of medical terminology and very complex. We did a nice article (on multiple myeloma). We interviewed one of the leading oncologists at Roswell Park.
Don: Oh, nice, from Buffalo!
Ted: Yes. And to be honest, I thought Roswell Park was a grassy field.
Don: It is not!
Ted: But one of the world’s, right, or top cancer centers. The article is very digestible and readable. And then what I loved was within 24 hours, there was a comment from a patient asking a question about what the contents of the article. And the doctor actually gave us an answer. (It’s exciting to be) interviewing leading researchers on cutting edge research. But also making it something your average, everyday person can actually process in Earth years.
Don: Now, you said you got about a million registered users; is that right?
Ted: we have about a million monthly unique patients. So those might be people just coming to look for reviews or creating an account and leaving a review. The growth curve is amazing. In March of 2018, we had about 10,000 unique visitors.
Don: OK. Walk me through that then because that’s kind of absurd growth for the one year, like, what did you do?
I’m not trying to say we’re the number one, review site. Sure. Certainly. As we mentioned a little bit earlier in the show, it’s primarily Google driven. Some of it is paid search driven, about 15% or 20%. But the other, call it 790,000 new uniques that we’re getting a month, come from, I think, just good– I would say you could start off by calling them good SEO practices.
There’s a lot of things that go into that, but the first is trust. Google cares a lot about trust. We are getting a lot of reviews, which matters from a site usefulness perspective. But also, the way we’re gathering them signals we hope signals they’re trustworthy. We hope that we’re keeping low quality reviews from reaching the site is also signals quality. To me, those are important SEO practices in a space that’s very crowded with low quality sites. There’s 200 sites that have scraped NPPES.
Don: If you can give one tip on the Google AdWords that’s worked well for you, what would that be?
Ted: I think where we’ve done well is we’ve tested a lot.
Don: Is that A, B, two messages out kind of thing (to make Google Adwords work)?
Ted: Yeah, I think it’s– you know, in an ideal world, you’re doing more than A, B, you’re right. It’s A, B, C, D, E, F, G at the same time. That obviously costs some money. So it’s harder for a small business.
Don: Is it like you go from five– let’s say you did five tests of a particular message. Do you like go five and then go down to one, or is there kind of like we try these five, then we tweak these three, and then we kind of tweak down to one?
Ted: And then it’s different by different segments, it’s different by different queries.
Don: Gotcha. Awesome. So what’s next for you guys?
Ted: We pretty clearly have to get from the 200,000 reviews and ratings we have now to over a million just for the product to be truly useful. Which means we’ll have to find that capital either through internal operations, or by raising an external round. That’s– just looks at the lifecycle of a startup.
We are seeking to be recognized as one of the sites that matters. Healthgrades and WebMD – yes, they’re competitors, but we’re also admirers of some of the things that they do. And we are aiming in the next two years to be talked about in the same breath.
Don: Gotcha. So it kind of sounds like you feel like you’re on the right path and you’re really just kind of doubling down on these strategies bringing in, potentially, these large partners to add weight to it. Do you feel like you’re on the right path?
Ted: I think everybody is feeling really good. There’s momentum – starting one of these companies is hard. There are a lot of companies that tried to do it. We thought we were going to fall in the chasm with them at times. So it feels good to have a scalable strategy. It feels good to be moving to leading edge high quality medical content with the economic model behind it that makes sense. As you know, creating great content, is expensive. We have to get to 10 million users, of course. But, hey, we got 100 x last year. We’re just one 10x away!