For the past 18 years, Christine Watson has followed the same routine when it came time to make a dental appointment for her kids. She checked their schedules. She checked her calendar. Then she called Dr. Robert Delarosa’s office, hoping one of his openings matched the times that worked best for her family. If everybody’s schedule didn’t mesh, she had to start juggling.
Sometimes that meant calls back and forth with the dentist’s office. The task only grew more complicated as Watson’s children got older and determined more of their own activities.
Until now. After interrogating her children and checking their calendars against hers, Watson booked their last appointments through LocalMed.com.
“It was just easier and a little more relaxing to schedule it when I had my own calendar in front of me,” Watson said.
Baton Rouge-based LocalMed is a live, online scheduling platform that lets patients find dentists and book appointments, 24/7. The dental practice gets an email notification of the appointment, identifying the patient as someone who used LocalMed.
Delarosa was an early adopter because two of his patients were among the company’s co-founders.
“We only do pediatrics so we’re dealing with busy moms … grandmoms that bring kids to the office,” he said. “So the first thought that comes to me is, ‘Wow, anything that can help families interface with our practice easier with modern technology has got to be something worthwhile looking into.’”
Delarosa is one of two dozen Baton Rouge-area dentists who subscribe to the service. For now, patients can also make appointments with seven dentists in New Orleans and five in Lafayette, as well as in other cities throughout the state.
For now — because LocalMed’s reach is expanding.
Earlier this month, LocalMed announced a partnership with United Concordia dental insurance and its 96,000 dentists and 7.5 million members.
Within the first three days of the announcement, 1,500 dentists in the United Concordia network inquired about LocalMed, said Jim Shade, vice president of network development and provider relations for United Concordia.
Patients can now book online appointments in Chicago, Boston and Los Angeles. Patients can also search for dentists who accept their insurance.
Shade said the more online access the company can provide to members, whether by computer or smartphone, the better.
September also brought an agreement with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana. If a dentist is in Blue Cross’s network and signed up with LocalMed, Blue Cross members can book dental appointments on the Blue Cross website through LocalMed.
LocalMed spokeswoman Michelle McMahon said it’s a first for the insurance industry.
The service costs dentists $49.95 a month. United Concordia dentists get a 20 percent discount.
Chief Executive Officer Keith English said LocalMed is working on similar arrangements with several other insurers.
He doesn’t expect all 96,000 of the dentists in United Concordia’s network to subscribe to LocalMed. But if the company can convince 12 percent to 15 percent of them to buy in over the next three to five years, things will get pretty interesting.
Over that same period, LocalMed expects to grow from the current 17 employees to 50-plus.
English and a couple of others have funded the company so far. But “to really pour some gasoline on things,” English said LocalMed must raise some outside capital, and it will need to do so in the not too distant future.
The company plans to target investors familiar with growth-stage companies. LocalMed hasn’t determined how much money it will try to raise yet.
LocalMed’s expansion depends on two keys: raising doctors’ awareness of the product and convincing patients to adopt the technology.
“Health care is kind of the last thing you can’t do online as far as scheduling is concerned,” English said. “You don’t travel or book a flight or any of that on the phone anymore. You simply look online and see what’s most convenient for you.”
LocalMed is hoping enough patients embrace the convenience to push more and more dentists, and eventually doctors, into adopting the technology.
Some dentists require less of a push than others. Dr. Ashley Griffon had already heard about LocalMed by the time the company pitched the service to her. “It sounded like a great idea, and we tried it out. It definitely has been an asset.”
Griffon said one of the best things about the service is that patients don’t have to sign up, get a password and create an account.
“To me that makes a big difference. You want it to be quick and convenient. You don’t want to have to remember a million passwords,” Griffon said.
Dr. Sally Daly describes herself as “a huge fan” of LocalMed.
It’s convenient, it’s easy for patients and it’s the sort of solution that fits how the younger generation searches for providers, she said.
Daly’s office manager, Shannon Hand, said the service helped bring in 10 new patients at a cost far below that of external marketing.
The only issue Daly’s practice had to overcome was surrendering control of appointment-making.
“That was a little weird at first, but we’ve opened up our whole schedule … and our patients are loving it. Hopefully, we’ll keep adding more patients,” Hand said.
Delarosa is already looking forward to the day when LocalMed’s services include verifying a patient’s insurance.
“Let me tell you something, I’ve got a person that’s all she does all day long,” he said. Reducing some of the practice’s administrative burden will be a big help.
English said LocalMed has barely begun the process of getting its name in front of dentists and consumers. Probably 99.9 percent of its efforts and budget go into software development.
“Right now the object is to build it. We see so many opportunities in front of us that building this up and taking advantage of those opportunities has been our sole focus,” English said. “I see 10 years worth of opportunities ahead of us.”
Follow Ted Griggs on Twitter @tedgriggsbr.