PokitDok Helps Patients Connect the Dots in a Fragmented Healthcare System
Before co-founding PokitDok, a forum and marketplace for health services, CEO Lisa Maki was in the midst of a major health issue. A serious athlete, Maki had rowed crew at Stanford and snowboarded in Utah, but she was experiencing back pain so severe she couldn’t walk 50 yards, and had to rest halfway through a shower.
For six months, doctors had the wrong diagnosis, but finally discovered that she had synovial cysts on her spine. Put simply, Maki’s spine was too flexible, causing fluid-filled sacs the size of marbles to form. So she had surgery to have the cysts removed.
But the pain came back.
Her orthopedic surgeon told her the only option was to put rods up her spine, a treatment that would severely affect her mobility.
“I couldn’t accept that,” she says. “I’d been mobile my whole life. I was three tests away from getting my black belt in karate. Even when I was in all this pain, I decided I would find out a new way to handle this.”
Maki wasn’t sure where to turn, so she threw a Hail Mary, posting on Facebook to see if anyone else knew anything about her condition. The head of her dojo responded, sending her to a chiropractor he knew. The chiropractor couldn’t help her, but he sent her to a physician at the hospital who was doing a study to treat synovial cysts with human growth hormone. She enrolled in the study and started working with a personal trainer who specialized in helping people with similar problems.
Six months later, she was completely pain-free. And the crazy part? The doctor whose study she enrolled in was in the same hospital as her orthopedic surgeon, just two halls over.
“I came away from that experience realizing that this is something technology can help with,” she says. “It’s great at connecting the dots. From my experiences with big data, I know we can connect dots more efficiently so it wouldn’t take someone like me as long to find the best options.”
So Maki and co-founder and chief technology officer Ted Tanner Jr. set out to create a resource consumers could consult to find unbiased information about their health care problems and options. The cofounders built PokitDok, an online platform that would help consumers make informed choices about their healthcare. Users can search for a particular ailment, see what kinds of treatments others have opted for, search through health care providers who have expertise in a given area, contact them directly, and compare treatment prices. Physicians and alternative health professionals can post their information, specialties, and even discounts to help consumers find what they’re looking for.
So, someone with Maki’s condition could online, search for synovial cysts, find others who have the same problem, and explore treatment options, as well as average prices for surgery or alternative treatment, based on zip code. And they could also do it all anonymously.
It was a natural fit for the two co-founders, who had spent the last couple years dealing with large amounts of heath data. As Maki was sorting out her health issues, she was also running a startup called BeliefNetworks with Tanner, working on a semantic system that enabled knowledge discovery across wide swaths of data. The duo sold the start up to a health benefits data company, but the buyer needed help finding new ways to mine the data. So Maki and Tanner were spending their days dealing with vast amounts of health information.
Meanwhile, as Obamacare came into play, Maki and Tanner realized that Americans were really confused about their healthcare, and needed help figuring it out. “I came away realizing that with all changes in health reform, all the changes in how we’re being insured, consumers were seeking an unbiased place to go to find out health information so they could make good decisions,” Maki says. “More of us are going to be covered by insurance, but we’re going to have to pay more out of pocket. You need information to figure out what decisions to make.”
Maki moved to the Bay Area a year ago to set up PokitDok’s headquarters, and the site launched nationally at the end of July. Pokitdok is rolling out the health care provider piece of the service city by city, with Los Angeles and Austin are already launched, and Seattle coming online now.
“Our vision from the beginning is that this is not a one-way conversation,” Maki says. “We want the providers to participate and list their services, let you know what they cost, and engage with you. So we have providers talking to each other. Alternative care providers talking to physicians. And people talking to each other about what works and what doesn’t.”
PokitDok makes its money by charging a flat transaction fee on services listed on the site. Providers aren’t required to list the cost of their services, but they can sell directly to consumers at a discount. And the site includes both medical and non-medical services, so users can find nutrition counselors and acupuncturists right alongside orthopedic surgeons and dermatologists.
“We are completely unbiased,” she says. “We aren’t pushing medical over alternative. We want you to see all your options.”
At first, naysayers were concerned that medical doctors wouldn’t want to show up on the same page as alternative medicine practitioners. But so far, Maki says, it hasn’t been a problem. They’ve mostly been growing by word of mouth, and providers have been signing themselves up.
“Everyone said what we have done is not possible,” Maki says. “We need to give consumers best possible information at the right time. They see this as a super efficient way to do it. Proving that this would happen was our first major obstacle.”
In July, PokitDok raised $1.3 million in seed funding from investors including Charles River Ventures, led by George Zachary. Also joining the round were Jonathan Sposato, Geoff Entress, the Ballast Fund, Albert Prast, Jason Portnoy, and Zach Zeitlin. The Menlo Park-based company has grown to 12 employees.
Going forward, Maki and Tanner will keep an eye on how health legislation changes as well as how state insurance exchanges are set up to see if there is an opportunity to help consumers with their insurance needs. “We do see insurance companies as ultimately participating in PokitDok down the road,” she says. “We could show them as one of your options.”
They’ve also had some interest from insurance companies, with “occasional calls from Blue Cross and Blue Shield curious about what we’re up to.”
But for now, PokitDok is focused on its original mission—helping consumers become more informed about their health options. “I’m a consumer. I’m trying to make what I wish I’d had when I went through that,” Maki says. “What I really want as a consumer is to find the best health for me.”