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At DocSpot, our mission is to connect people with the right health care by helping them navigate publicly available information. We believe the first step of that mission is to help connect people with an appropriate medical provider, and we look forward to helping people navigate other aspects of their care as the opportunities arise. We are just at the start of that mission, so we hope you will come back often to see how things are developing.

An underlying philosophy of our work is that right care means different things to different people. We also recognize that doctors are multidimensional people. So, instead of trying to determine which doctors are "better" than others, we offer a variety of filter options that individuals can apply to more quickly discover providers that fit their needs.

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Redesigning the user interface

by jerry on July 16, 2011

We've known for a while that our user interface needs a redesign. The search results page sports a powerful filter interface. You can say, for example, that you want you to see doctors that accept any Aetna insurance except for Aetna Select. You can say you want to see any doctor in a certain area who has graduated from either University of Texas Southwestern or University of Virginia medical schools, all in the same query. As you update, the counts next to each option also update, indicating how many providers would still match if you were to filter on that option. The problem?

We've known for a while that our user interface needs a redesign. The search results page sports a powerful filter interface. You can say, for example, that you want you to see doctors that accept any Aetna insurance except for Aetna Select. You can say you want to see any doctor in a certain area who has graduated from either University of Texas Southwestern or University of Virginia medical schools, all in the same query. As you update, the counts next to each option also update, indicating how many providers would still match if you were to filter on that option. The problem?

The interface ends up with a lot of checkboxes. And long lists. We closed some of the filter trees so that users wouldn't be overwhelmed with the number of choices, but that created the problem of some users not knowing about the options. There are other issues as well. With so many filter options, which attributes are most important? Some people know what's important to them (whether that be residency, years of practice, or patient reviews). Some others would like more guidance in sorting out which doctors to further research. Another issue that has come up is people wondering how are the results sorted.

Lots of questions to tackle. And this time, we'll have to keep in mind that we ourselves are not the target users. If you have ideas on how the user interface should be re-designed, please post it to our discussion board or contact us. It'd be great to hear from you. Thanks.

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Behind the scenes

by jared on July 07, 2011

Ever wonder what goes on behind the scenes of our website? Not just the gears behind the shiny stuff: the colorful web design, the zigzag of buttons and boxes and widgets. I'm talking about the boring bits ? the aggregation and pruning of data that serves as the site's backbone. The oft over-looked life of the bleary-eyed programmer toiling away in his cubicle. Ever wonder about this guy? No?

Ever wonder what goes on behind the scenes of our website? Not just the gears behind the shiny stuff: the colorful web design, the zigzag of buttons and boxes and widgets. I'm talking about the boring bits ? the aggregation and pruning of data that serves as the site's backbone. The oft over-looked life of the bleary-eyed programmer toiling away in his cubicle. Ever wonder about this guy? No?

It's okay. I don't blame you. Admittedly, my life isn't all that glamorous. My primary job is to process data and try to get it into structured form. In other words, given a list of words or names, I try to have the software sort them into meaningful categories, like Specialty, Clinical Interests, or Medical School.

It's a little like teaching a robot to pick up colored legos from their respective buckets - if the buckets had been sorted by a two-year-old. At best, most are in the right bucket, but a fair amount of red legos are in the blue bucket and most of the yellows are in the green. At worst, the lego pieces are strewn all over the floor - Medical School, Residency, Dental School, Fellowship - all in the same pile.

Here's an example of what I mean. This time there are just two buckets: Last Name and Credential. You'd think it would be pretty simple to distinguish someone's name from his credentials, you know ? like Dr. Smith vs. ?MD?. Pretty straightforward stuff.

You'd be surprised.

Try looking up ?Larry Keyser? on the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare website. Can't find him? Neither can I. But wait, that doesn't make sense - here's his profile. What's going on here?

When I review the data file again, I discover the problem: the data source mixed this provider's last name and credentials. According to the source, this doctor's last name is "Keyser Optometrist". Now I need to tell the software to take the green lego "Optometrist" out of the red bucket with all the other last names. And it's hard enough to get robots to recognize colors.

I am the programmer (one of them anyway) who works on issues like these, tirelessly trying to perfect the ghastly data in the public databases we work with. But I'm more than willing - every little improvement we make helps push us closer toward our goal of bringing transparency to healthcare. That's what makes it all worth it.

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Question of the Week

by liz on June 30, 2011

Our discussion boards are in the early stages of becoming a lively place for conversation among patients, doctors, and anyone who has opinions or questions about finding a great health care provider. If you have any thoughts you?d like to share with the DocSpot community, this is the place to go.

Just to add to the excitement, we?re starting a tradition of posting a new Question of the Week once every...you guessed it...week! This week?s question is ?When you?re looking for a doctor, how important are patient reviews??

Our discussion boards are in the early stages of becoming a lively place for conversation among patients, doctors, and anyone who has opinions or questions about finding a great health care provider. If you have any thoughts you?d like to share with the DocSpot community, this is the place to go.

Just to add to the excitement, we?re starting a tradition of posting a new Question of the Week once every...you guessed it...week! This week?s question is ?When you?re looking for a doctor, how important are patient reviews??

At DocSpot, we aggregate as many reviews as possible (this opthalmologist, for example, has 21), in order to offer patient reviews and ratings as one of many factors that people can choose to consider as they search for health providers at www.DocSpot.com. Some people won't make a decision without looking at reviews; others tend to be skeptical of online reviews or just want to form their own opinions about a doctor regardless of what other people think. Where do you fall in this spectrum? We?d love to hear your thoughts via the discussion board.

If you don?t have any particular opinions about patient reviews, that?s fine too - check back often for new questions to ponder, responses to chew on, and opportunities to share what you think.

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Privacy versus transparency

by jerry on June 25, 2011

We get a number of requests from providers to update their information, as I noted last week. Sometimes, we also get requests from providers to remove their profiles entirely, such as this request. I'd like to take a moment to surface our internal musings and let you know our plans in regards to this issue.

For some background, DocSpot's mission is to empower consumers to make better health care decisions, and we believe a big part of that is to increase transparency and navigability of information. Want to know whether a provider has a clean record? Want to search for a provider who is accepting new patients, regardless of which institution he or she works at? Our aim is to bring all of that publicly available information together into one place so people can search using one unified interface, filtering according to their preferences.

We also understand that some providers want to minimize their online presence. There could be many reasons for this. For example, we get a number of requests from mental health providers who would like their information to be hidden; one such provider referenced the unpredictability of their patients as an underlying motivation. Requests like these underscore the tension between transparency (making information accessible) and privacy (hiding information). Probably the easiest way to walk through this issue is to go through a couple different examples:

We get a number of requests from providers to update their information, as I noted last week. Sometimes, we also get requests from providers to remove their profiles entirely, such as this request. I'd like to take a moment to surface our internal musings and let you know our plans in regards to this issue.

For some background, DocSpot's mission is to empower consumers to make better health care decisions, and we believe a big part of that is to increase transparency and navigability of information. Want to know whether a provider has a clean record? Want to search for a provider who is accepting new patients, regardless of which institution he or she works at? Our aim is to bring all of that publicly available information together into one place so people can search using one unified interface, filtering according to their preferences.

We also understand that some providers want to minimize their online presence. There could be many reasons for this. For example, we get a number of requests from mental health providers who would like their information to be hidden; one such provider referenced the unpredictability of their patients as an underlying motivation. Requests like these underscore the tension between transparency (making information accessible) and privacy (hiding information). Probably the easiest way to walk through this issue is to go through a couple different examples:

1) Personal contact information -- we have no intention of publishing personal contact information. Personal contact information is not medically relevant, and therefore falls outside of our mission. We plan on allowing providers to claim their profiles and update and hide their contact information as they wish.

As an aside, it's important to note that we have no means (and no intention) of collecting private information. We work with publicly available data, and in most cases, the personal information that people want removed is from the National Provider Identifier database. Therefore, we are not disclosing any non-public information. So, if you're a provider who's about to write in to remove your contact information from our site, please first update it with the National Provider Identifier database. Even if your information were magically removed from our site, it would re-appear the next time that we re-synchronize with that database.

2) Disciplinary actions -- disciplinary actions are public information usually published by the state's medical licensing board. We can understand a provider's reluctance to have such information highlighted if he or she has had a prior infraction. However, we believe that such records could be medically relevant, and therefore plan on showing that information. It's worthwhile to note that if we start to allow some providers to hide disciplinary actions, then that allowance undermines the confidence in the vast majority of profiles that have clean records.

These are two polar opposites but should illuminate our philosophy on this issue. There are certainly trickier issues such as patient reviews. That discussion, however, will need to wait for another time.

Have thoughts? As always, it would be great to hear from you on our discussion board.

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We haven't built that yet

by jerry on June 19, 2011

We've been getting a number of inquiries from providers about how to update their profile. Our response sounds very embarrassing, but it's true: we'd love for providers to claim their profiles and be able to update them, but we haven't built that functionality yet.

We've been getting a number of inquiries from providers about how to update their profile. Our response sounds very embarrassing, but it's true: we'd love for providers to claim their profiles and be able to update them, but we haven't built that functionality yet.

Back when we started this venture, we didn't want to just put out a thin directory that had minimal information. So we started by working on the difficult problem of helping people search across a variety of sources and automatically building composite profiles. We thought that maybe it would take us six months or a year to do this; that was two years ago. It turns out that this approach presents many time-consuming problems. For example, some government databases will misspell some provider names. In addition to refining the algorithms, we've added all sorts of other information such as whether a provider has a clean record and how the provider has been rated by patients. Once we clear off a number of refinements to our matching algorithms, we plan on working on the UI piece to allow providers to claim and update their profiles for free.

So what can you do if you register an account right now? Currently, you can do two things: leave a review for a provider that you like (or don't like) and join the community discussion to give us feedback or to ask others what they think. If you register, you should also get a notification e-mail when certain features roll out.

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