By GREGORY ZELLER //
And you thought medical school took forever.
It’s been 10 long years since husband-and-wife entrepreneurs Anthony Casimano and Siobhan O’Grady launched their online appointment-setting service for local doctors and dentists.
Built around a proprietary, comprehensive and free public database featuring 1 million-plus board-certified providers, FindaTopDoc.com is anything but floundering now – though Casimano admits it took the Islip-based tech firm the better part of eight years to find its virtual footing.
“We had a plan, but the developers weren’t getting it,” the cofounder and president noted. “But since we found our dream team about three years ago, we have been cranking.
“And the business model evolved,” Casimano added. “Around 2008, the objective was just appointment-setting. We wanted to grow into a complete, online marketing suite and SEO platform – a relationship-management service that doctors could take advantage of.”
The unique vision combined the best traits of the conjugal cofounders. O’Grady, the startup’s vice-president, is a graduate of the College of Business at Stony Brook University with a professional background in medical sales. Her husband is the founder of two circa-1990s Islip-based startups, direct-mail specialists Metropolitan Direct Marketing and Metro Data & Mailing, which Casimano still operates under the Metro Data banner.
Unlike its older brothers – which focus on local-business postcard mailings, regional bank credit card offers and the like – FindaTopDoc.com functions largely online, where it has matured into a suite of marketing and business-development products for physicians and dentists, primarily solo practitioners and independent practice groups.
A marketing firm at heart, the company is in effect a sophisticated customer-engagement platform that helps paying clients promote their practices and more thoroughly interact with patients – while providing a free and essentially unmatched find-a-doctor search engine that can locate providers in virtually every neck of America’s woods.
It works thusly: A patient Googles information on his hacking cough, her knee injury or some other condition. Leveraging tens of thousands of keywords and phrases, content-rich pages – articles, fact sheets and more, crafted in-house by FindaTopDoc.com’s writers and editors – vault to the top of the search results.
In addition to reams of useful information on hacking coughs, twisted knees and what have you, the pages also spotlight providers specializing in those conditions, right in the patient’s geographic vicinity.
“We like to say we connect patients to doctors through content,” Casimano noted.
While the database contains “just about every doctor in the country,” according to the cofounder, providers can pay for “priority placement” on the article pages and on the FindaTopDoc website (in rural areas where the company has not yet secured paying customers, user searches default to the nearest non-paying specialists).
Assembling the massive database was a huge technological hurdle, which FindaTopDoc’s programmers cleared with the help of dozens of public and government registries.
“We merged together a bunch of databases and took what we found to be the best data from each,” Casimano said. “Then we aggregated that into what we feel are the most comprehensive profiles out there.”
Providers can also ante up for an Expert Profile – basically, a blog platform that lets them publish their own content on FindaTopDoc pages.
“This drives more SEO by giving us more medical content,” Casimano noted. “So, instead of having our writers write it, we now have doctors writing the medical content.”
In addition to maneuvering its way to the top of Google search results, FindaTopDoc attracts patients through active Facebook and Twitter communities. The social media campaigns only launched in May, but Casimano already counts some 250,000 followers between them, spread through communities focused on Alzheimer’s disease, cystic fibrosis and other common ailments.
But it’s those key phrases – and top Google returns – that primarily attract patients, and FindaTopDoc’s development teams have focused heavily on expanding their keyword range. While the company leveraged 7,000 or fewer key phrases for the better part of its first decade, it’s grown that range to more than 120,000 key phrases since last December – a strategic play that’s made all the difference, according to Casimano.
“We became much more savvy with what Google looks for in its SEO,” he noted. “We learned the best practices and increased our writing staff.”
That writing staff is part of a company roster that’s grown to 80 full-time employees, according to Cusimano, including programmers and sales staff. Together, they’ve turned the startup into a money-maker, reporting some $9 million in sales in 2016 with upwards of $12 million projected for 2017, the cofounder said.
To keep the momentum going, FindaTopDoc has created a number of ancillary products and services. In 2015, it introduced in-office “review kiosks” allowing patients to share on-the-spot assessments of their provider’s performance – providing more SEO-friendly content and counterbalancing some of the negative online reviews that tend to weigh on private practices, Casimano noted.
“When a patient goes home and takes the time to find a doctor (online) and write a review, it’s because they had a bad experience,” he said. “They typically don’t go home and write about a good experience – they just go on with their life.
“But if you catch everybody in the office, and you get the patients who had a good experience to write review, then doctors can get a benefit they don’t typically get from online reviews.”
The company has placed roughly 5,000 review kiosks – essentially, task-specific iPads running a proprietary company app – over the last two years. And this summer, it launched a new online Q&A function allowing patients to interact directly with providers, with about 1,000 answers posted weekly, according to Casimano.
With a U.S. patent application for the review-kiosk process filed and a new international sales team in the fold, Casimano is thinking long-term. Eventually, he’d like to partner with a practice-management software company – “There’s an opportunity to bring a web-based component to their software,” he said – and envisions an IPO in the not-too-distant future.
But with FindaTopDoc’s web traffic now exceeding 2 million monthly users and “thousands of providers using the website weekly in one way or another,” the cofounder is thrilled with the progress of the past two years.
“A year ago, we were struggling to get 100 visitors a day,” Casimano noted. “And our revenue has increased.”
As for whether a provider is actually a “top doc,” he added, that’s a personal question only the patient can answer.
“We try to provide the best information available, from a multitude of sources,” Casimano said. “But the top doctor for me might not be the top doctor for you.
“Only the user can make that determination.”
What’s It? Online physician-referral database
Brought To You By: Husband-and-wife entrepreneurs Anthony Casimano and Siobhan O’Grady
All In: $100,000, self-funded, covering office space, product development and a sales team
Status: Top of the heap