With its bright, cheerful colors and clean lettering, the Web site Carol.com resembles an online women's clothing retailer, but the creators of this electronic marketplace have different customers in mind: patients.
Hoping to attract healthcare consumers ready to compare medical providers and services, Carol.com sets up a retail environment, with cost estimates for different treatment packages, quality information about doctors and hospitals, and practitioner credentials. (Its name is based on the idea that everyone knows a helpful person named Carol.)
Think of it as a “virtual care mall,” complete with anchor tenants and boutique stores, says Tony Miller, founder and chief executive officer.
The Minneapolis-based company partners with insurance companies to determine current prices and has more than 30 providers—from Mayo Clinic to single physicians—helping create different care packages targeting a variety of symptoms and conditions. For now, the site focuses on the Twin Cities area but hopes to expand to other geographical regions this year, says Miller, who started the company with the help of other practitioners frustrated with the lack of opportunities for patients to make informed choices and shop for healthcare.
“I have no doubt that consumers are ready for this,” Miller says.
Insurers are enthusiastic about the Web site. “We see a great opportunity to increase competition in the marketplace,” says Lora Hedin, senior director of product and market solutions for HealthPartners, one of the state's largest insurance companies, which has worked with Carol.com for the past year to develop cost estimates and help patients better understand out-of-pocket and overall healthcare costs.
The site, which launched in January, does not have a large variety of services available for comparison yet, but HealthPartners is seeking feedback from members about what else they'd like to shop for, so they can bring those suggestions to Carol.com. The insurer is targeting the 20% of its 1.15 million members that have high cost-sharing plans because they are the ones more likely to shop for services, Hedin says. “People are more likely to be engaged when more of their money is at stake.”