MediBid: PriceLine for Healthcare?

July 23, 2010

Ralph Weber knows the effects of a long wait for surgery all too well.  His wife travelled to California in 2005 to undergo foot surgery she was unable to get at a hospital near their Niagara Falls home.  She had spent more than two years waiting for the surgery in Ontario. Once she arrived in California, she underwent surgery in two days. 

by ALISON LANGLEY
Niagra Falls Review

Around the same time, their son was struck by a car.

While he was not seriously injured, Weber often wondered if his son may have sustained a brain injury.

“A year after the accident, his behaviour changed. I’ll never know if it was due to a brain injury because he never had a CT scan,” Weber said during a telephone interview from California, where the family now lives.

The lengthy wait, coupled with his son’s treatment in Niagara Falls, was the impetus for a new website called MediBid.

The website is a virtual marketplace for medicine that allows patients to accept bids for medical care from physicians and specialists in the U.S. and overseas.

“We started this because we wanted to get Canadians taken care of,” said Weber, president and CEO of MediBid.com.

“We’re not making judgments on what kind of treatment is good or bad and we’re not making judgments on the Canadian medical system, we’re simply giving choice and access to people.”

Patients create a profile and post a request for care online.  Physicians submit a custom bid based on the patient’s individual needs.

 “For some procedures, people are looking for the lowest price, but for something like heart surgery or brain surgery, they’re not bargain shopping, so what they choose is up to them,” Weber said.

He said the site is essentially a tool for patients to obtain real prices for health care from a free-market system.

“There are some Canadians who say they’re going to get it for free if they wait long enough, so why should they pay for it.”

“If you weigh-in the expense of lost income from missed work while on a waiting list, the value in paying out of pocket is apparent.

There is no cost to make a request on MediBid, but there is a $25 fee to view the bids generated from each request.

The company was launched in the U.S. in January and opened to Canadians in June. Dr. Artaj Singh, president and medical director at Urgent Care Niagara, which operates clinics in Niagara Falls and Welland, finds the concept interesting, yet concerning.

“When I look at this, it’s very creative and very interesting, but for Ontario physicians and patients there are a lot of issues that need to be worked out. I don’t think it will fly seamlessly.”

Singh questions the viability of the site in Canada since Canadian doctors cannot legally contract with patients online for services that are covered within the parametres of OHIP.

“I can’t contact a patient and say, ‘Look, I’ll fast track you if you pay me on the side.’ That’s simply not allowed in Canada.”

More here and here.

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