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Silicon City: MedWaitTime an Rx for long waits at the doctor's office
From: Chicagobusiness Powered by Crain's by: Steve Hendershot

Orthopedic surgeon Vishal Mehta came up with an idea to save his patients some time: a web-based service that would allow them to see if he was running behind schedule, and, if so, to arrive a little later to their appointments.

Vishal Mehta

He figured right away that the app had commercial potential beyond his practice, Fox Valley Orthopaedic Institute in Geneva, so he recruited two partners, investment banker Saqib Akhter and intellectual property attorney Manish Mehta (his cousin).

They developed the product and founded a company around it, both called MedWaitTime. The product launched in May 2010, and it has found an audience with health care providers and patients alike: More than 300 Chicago health care providers, including departments within the Adventa Health and Advocate Health systems, have signed on. Now Dr. Mehta and his partners—all of whom are still only part-time with MedWaitTime—are meeting with potential series A investors. 

Dr. Mehta declines to disclose the company's revenues, but he tells Silicon City about other aspects of his business, and the prospect of having to choose between medicine and entrepreneurship.

Crain’s: How did you hit upon the idea for MedWaitTime?

Vishal Mehta: Like any good idea, there was a need there. One problem we have as orthopedic surgeons, like any specialists, is that we can run behind. If we capped our schedules at 30 patients a day, we could keep schedule, but we get calls from emergency rooms or from patients' families saying, "Hey, my mother had a knee injury, can you see her?" Well, if we kept to the 30-patients-a-day schedule, we could maybe see her six weeks from now. Instead, we fit her in, and before you know it, there are 40 people on the schedule and we run behind. And patients get that — they know health care is unpredictable, and they say, "We want you to take that time when it’s our turn. But can you just tell us before we get here that you’re running late?"

The (traditional) answer is no, because there’s no good way of doing it. But it runs naturally to a technology solution, so we developed a system to let our patients know — they’d receive a (notification) prior to their visit letting them know what the delay is, the reason for delay and how many minutes they can come in late. That changes an uninformed wait into an informed wait, gives them back some of their time, and they really appreciate that.

Crain’s: You also offer a “find a doctor” feature. How does that work?

VM: Our whole concept now has morphed into a business about access. There are two flavors. One is where you have an appointment with a doctor, or you’re going to an emergency room or urgent care facility and want to know the wait time. The other is for people who don’t have a place to go yet.

(To address) the second part, we’ve developed the ability to find a doctor. Let’s say you have an ankle injury and need to see an orthopedic surgeon. What happens is, you call one, and the customer service is usually pretty horrendous — you’re on hold for 20 minutes, then they say they’ll call you back; that takes an hour, and they tell you they can get you in in three weeks. It’s a frustrating process and you end up in ER, which is not good for the patient or the insurance system or the country, because it’s turned a routine injury into a $1,000 ER visit, all because the access wasn’t there.

Now, using our system, you can select your location and the type of doctor or facility you’re looking for, and we direct you to a doctor or a physical therapy clinic or MRI center that can see you within a desired time frame.

Crain’s: You’re in a pretty rare circumstance, running an up-and-coming tech company while still practicing as an orthopedic surgeon. How do you juggle those commitments? Do you anticipate having to choose between them?

VM: I’m fortunate to have two very gifted partners who I think are capable of running the company. This business is certainly a passion of mine, but so is my practice. So while I  find myself pulled in two directions at times, I also feel fortunate to be in this position because it’s the best of both worlds — I’m doing what I’ve always wanted to do since I was a kid, what I am trained to do, which is orthopedic surgery, but also I have the ability to share in the experience of growing a company like this.

This company is not too different from medicine. I went into medicine to help people, and this company, while a business, is still very much along those lines. It’s about helping people find access (to health care), which is a big problem in this country. So they’re both still in line with my core values, and I truly do enjoy doing both. If the time comes where I have to make a decision one way or the other, I’ll do so, but I’m hoping right now that I can maintain what I’m doing and rely on my partners to fill the role of jumping in full time as the time gets here. And I think that time will get here soon, as we’re actively in discussions with angel investors and venture-capital firms.