For Medefy, it all started in the shower.
In 2012, Matt Scovil was calling multiple offices, trying to figure out how much it would cost him to see a doctor. Each time he would call, he’d get the same answer: We don’t know, but will get back to you with a bill after your visit.
“If I went to a restaurant and they said ‘Thanks for dining with us. You’ll get your bill in three months,’ and that bill could be anything, nobody would go out to eat,” Scovil said. “But in healthcare, we’re like ‘That’s just the way it is.’”
After hearing that a few times, the idea hit Scovil in the shower to develop a way for consumers to comparison shop for a doctor or a colonoscopy. So he brought in his cousin and previous business partner, Nathan Gilchrist, and the pair launched Medefy, a mobile app that allows corporate-insured consumers and human resource departments to compare prices of medical services in an area via an algorithm using data from multiple sources.
Available for iOS, Android and desktop browser, Medefy also allows a user to search for doctors by type or procedure offered, and can even take into account doctor networks, insurance payment rates and deductibles to convey exactly how much they would pay for each procedure or visit.
“There’s a huge price variance among providers,” Gilchrist said. “I can go to one place and get a CT scan for $200 or I can go to another place and get a CT scan for $2,000. Same scan, same machine and a lot of times, it’s the same radiologists reading the scan.”
Over the course of two app versions, the concept was tweaked and molded via connections made through i2e, a non-profit that works with Oklahoma small businesses, and The Forge, a local small business incubator formed by the Tulsa Regional Chamber.
Among the biggest changes early on was the look and feel of the application, a move necessitated by Gilchrist and Scovil’s inexperience with app building.
“The entire process would have been significantly easier if we had a tech co-founder,” Gilchrist said. “The first version we managed to cobble together ourselves and it was really ugly. Think 40 pages of moving Excel sheets.”
The two were not only green when it came to building mobile apps, but with medicine as well. Both are quick to point out that they are basically medical outsiders with educational backgrounds in civil engineering for Gilchrist and business for Scovil. However, the bulk of their careers has been with start-ups in the healthcare industry.
“Don’t be intimidated by not having experience in a certain area,” Scovil said. “And don’t be intimidated by the economic outlook. If you try to wait for the perfect time to do anything, you’ll never do it.
“Don’t be intimidated by a lack of anything.”
The pair got their start in healthcare when they launched a medical licensing agency soon after graduating from Oklahoma State University in 2008. Despite starting just weeks before the Great Recession hit, the agency grew to be the fourth largest in the country before shuttering with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
With the Donald Trump administration announcing plans to repeal and replace the ACA, interest in Medefy has taken off since the 2016 presidential election as companies try to plan ahead for what the new health care market will look like.
“It (the ACA) wasn’t a well-designed law,” Scovil said. “ It was pretty chaotic. What we had wasn’t good and what we replaced it with was worse, because it only changed who paid for the high cost of care. Companies we deal with … are starting to see restrictions be removed and are very much excited to find a better way.”
According to the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, the average premium for an employer-provided individual health insurance plan was $2,889 per person in 2001, or $3,886 when adjusted for inflation. As of 2015, that figure was up to $5,963.
Timing, along with interest and passion, has helped carry Medefy forward as it continues to grow, but as both cautioned, neither is enough to sustain a start-up business long-term, especially in the tech industry.
“Do your homework. Passion is awesome, but it will only take you so far,” Scovil said.
“It’ll take you about right up to the point where you get really frustrated,” Gilchrist interjected. “To where you want to jump ship.”