In July, Whitecoat, a new service labelled the ‘Tripadvisor of healthcare’, made its debut in New Zealand. Australia-based Whitecoat is an online platform redefining patients as consumers, by enabling them to review, rate and compare healthcare providers. With autonomy and empowerment at the heart of Whitecoat’s mission, it invites a transformation of patient experiences in New Zealand, and CEO Matthew Donnellan answered some of our questions about the launch. 

Whitecoat is supported by nib insurance, and has over 10,000 healthcare providers across several services including general practice, specialist, dental, and physiotherapy. This aims to fill a gap in information, transparency, and comparability when it comes to healthcare. This means that patients, as consumers of healthcare services, can make more informed choices. Patient-centredness and autonomy in healthcare is crucial, and with platforms like Whitecoat, patients now have a unique opportunity to influence their healthcare experiences. The Whitecoat website allows users to leave reviews, and to search for providers in their area.

Patients as consumers is not a foreign concept; in fact, its prevalence has risen in recent years. While this concept has brought about fears that it can alter the provider-patient relationship, making it more business-like and rigid. It has also been associated with connotations that patients must take the driving seat in their care, and may, by design force them into feeling the need to control their journey. However, the fact remains that patients are ultimately consumers of a service and both roles as patients and consumers need to be considered. What this means is that individuals have choices and they are empowered to make these choices. Matthew says, “Fundamentally, we think it’s wrong that people probably know more about what’s happening with their car than what’s happening in their body. People spend way more on health than anything else (both directly and through paying tax). We passionately believe that giving them more information about things like costs, availability and seeing people who they can relate to is really important. Healthcare should not be considered ‘above’ the world of consumer empowerment; it should lead it.”

Online platforms provide a new voice for so many groups. In fact, it’s much like what we see on websites like Yelp and Zomato. While both industries are undoubtedly providers of a service, the implications of reviewing healthcare are quite different to reviewing a meal. This is why Whitecoat has made a point of focusing on human interaction and experience. The launch of Whitecoat was not without controversy, with concerns about the fairness to doctors, should their decisions or practice be taken out of context, or negatively commented on without verification. With malpractice cases being a huge issue, particularly in the United States, Whitecoat has also been viewed as potentially increasing barriers for someone to take actions they may fear backlash from, or causing concerns for their safety – an example being performing abortions, which is viewed as contentious in some groups. Whitecoat does counter this through moderation and monitoring to ensure only customer service, and not clinical feedback. With the velocity of developments intersecting health care and technology, a space that rightfully demands all principles of privacy, transparency, and accountability, this is crucial.

Whitecoat is a demonstration of how technology such as online platforms can empower patients. Although the rise of technology in changing healthcare is definitely nothing new, it has been slower than other industries and patients are being increasingly exposed to it. Matthew is excited about this future, saying, “The key thing to note is that you touch your mobile phone more than anything or anyone other than your face! It is part of our daily lives, so it makes perfect sense to ensure that as much relevant information as possible is stored there. As the technology gets better (faster data speeds, better apps, wearables) we know that the mobile will be the source of the truth for people’s health. We see a future where the consumer will decide using the available smarts in their phones whether they should take some medicine, do a video chat with their healthcare professional or choose to visit them in person. This is a few years away, not decades.”

And next for Whitecoat: ”In Australia, cardless and cashless payments for all healthcare. No need to ‘swipe and hope’ or to send stuff away to be paid. We are doing this in partnership with Australia’s biggest bank, the Commonwealth. If it goes well – and we think it will – then we will look to do similar things in NZ with ASB in 2019.”

Check out Whitecoat here!