Turning Point: How a Start Up Grows Up

People generally don’t think about health care when they’re healthy. I’m guilty of that, too. It took a basketball injury for me to realize how broken our current system has become.

Mitch June 2013 low res 300x199 Turning Point: How a Start Up Grows Up Photo

Mitch Rothschild, CEO of Vitals

I tore my Achilles tendon and scheduled an operation to have it repaired. As I was getting wheeled into the operating room, the surgeon made small talk.

“I don’t get to do many of these,” he admitted.

It was too late for me to do anything about it at the time. But why did I know more about the quality of restaurants and hotels via the Internet than I did about this doctor? Turns out, my experience wasn’t unique.  While it was easy to access restaurant reviews and menus online, most people in 2006 still relied on a health insurance directory to choose a doctor.

I wanted to harness the technology that reshaped the travel and restaurant industries and apply it to health care – but there was resistance. For one, I took flak from doctors for soliciting patient-ratings. They didn’t feel patients were qualified to rate them fairly. But we felt their first-hand experiences were important pieces of knowledge to share.

Then, while we were collecting data and building the site, a couple of large digital health companies came on the scene. There was Google Health and Revolution Health backed by AOL.

We didn’t have the advantage of millions of dollars, nor did we have any strong brand recognition. Luckily, those companies had some missteps. Revolution Health had data issues from the beginning, and their clients eventually leased data from Vitals. Google built an application that didn’t have “web 2.0 heart” in it. There was no new value being created, nor did it provide users the health information they needed.

Real change seemed elusive, even though the health care system was ailing. But we kept our heads down, continued to improve our data and collect reviews. We felt we were doing something important – and our traffic was growing.

Then, last year, the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act.  It was a defining moment that reinforced to everyone that improving the accessibility, equality, quality and cost-effectiveness of our system is a shared responsibility.

It may seem counterintuitive, but while health companies provide care to patients, they don’t always supply value.  Our site has been focused on that for years, and now we’re positioned to deliver solutions to companies across the health care ecosystem. As a result, we’ve expanded many of our partnerships and have signed new business each week.

I’ve started many companies over the years that made money and had success. But who knew that you needed an act of congress for people to really sit up and take notice of your business?