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There’s a new way to shop for doctors ... and deals

Lyndhurst-based site helping consumers shop for health care

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    Mitch Rothschild said Vitals is helping people shop for health care like a consumer.
    Mitch Rothschild said Vitals is helping people shop for health care like a consumer. - (PHOTO BY AARON HOUSTON)

    One thing is clear about the future of health care: More Americans every day are now behaving like consumers — shopping not only for the best doctors, but the best prices, too.

    Mitch Rothschild saw this trend back in 2008, when he founded Vitals, a Lyndhurst-based health care company with a website that now attracts more than 12 million unique visitors a month.

    Vitals.com aggregates the myriad data points that the health care system generates about doctors, dentists, hospitals and urgent care centers to assess the quality of health care providers.

    More importantly for consumers, the site also gives consumers cost information, so they can learn how much different providers charge for the same service.

    “I'd like to believe that people are starting to be more intelligent about their doctor shopping,” he said. “We are helping a few thousand people a day make a better choice about health care.”

    And making plenty of money doing it.

    While Vitals.com is free to consumers, its classic Internet business model — content supported by advertising — has pushed revenues to more than $20 million a year, Rothschild said.

    Here's how:

    “The beauty of the way health care works in this country is you cannot be out there providing health care without a license,” Rothschild said.

    That means Vitals can access data from all these professionals.

    The company has information on outcome and mortality data for surgeons; hospital infection rates; the credentials, awards and honors physicians have received and the papers they've published; disciplinary actions and malpractice judgments; and how often a doctor gets a patient referral from another doctor.

    Vitals also has amassed a huge trove of patient input from people commenting on their experience with their doctors.

    And they have that information for every doctor in the country.

    Advertising from doctors, hospitals and pharmaceutical companies is one part of the company's revenue stream, though Rothschild is quick to point out the ads are clearly labeled as such and are completely separate from the ratings — and have no influence on those ratings.

    Vitals also gets revenue by working directly with health insurance plans.

    The site provides the consumer with tools that enable health plan members to search for doctors for more than two dozen insurance plans nationwide, including WellPoint and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois.

    Vitals will tell that member more than just how much a certain doctor or provider will cost. Based on the member's health plan, the site will detail how much the individual will have to pay out of pocket.

    Rothschild said Vitals is growing rapidly because it is at the forefront of a huge sea change in the health care system, in which individuals are increasingly choosing their own health plans.

    Rothschild said, in 2011, about 6 percent of Americans bought their own health coverage; he said that's estimated to grow to about 23 percent by the end of this year.

    The number, like Vitals, only figures to grow.

    E-mail to: beth@njbiz.com
    On Twitter: @bethfitzgerald8

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    Beth Fitzgerald

    Beth Fitzgerald

    Beth Fitzgerald reports on health care, small business and higher education. She joined NJBIZ in 2008 after a 34-year career at the Star-Ledger and has been reporting on business in New Jersey since 1978. Her email is beth@njbiz.com and she is @bethfitzgerald8 on Twitter.

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