While some Americans anticipated that large corporations would help with the global pandemic, few considered the value of a startup. Thankfully, one company decided to help, trying to connect countless Americans to available COVID-19 vaccines. The Dr. B website came about after founder Massoumi noticed a gap in vaccine distribution when cancelations and no-shows occurred. Before launching, a significant percentage of surplus vaccines were either distributed to whoever was nearby or disposed of in the trash.
Despite a significant vaccine shortage during the initial rollout phase in 2021, nearly 30% of scheduled appointments wound up wasted.
Using Technology to Build Connections
Dr. B was developed to help connect health care providers with extra vaccines with individuals trying to secure a vaccine appointment. While most booking websites offered limited availability, Dr. B functioned as an on-demand service. Although the platform didn’t provide appointment times directly, it did offer real-time connections to localized centers with extra shots.
The standby network operated like a flight standby, sending registered individuals within the local region a notification when a nearby healthcare provider hadextra doses. Providerscould upload expected surplus amounts directly to Dr. B’s website, along with expiration times. Once uploaded to the platform, Dr. B worked to fill the vacancies using an algorithm of qualified candidates. The platform required no additional effort or time commitment from the clinic while reducing wasted resources overall.
On the patient side, applicants were required to fill out a basic application when joining. Users filled out their name, address, location, employer details, and any high-risk qualifications (like medical concerns or pregnancy). The data was stored, using local government mandates as a guide for priority. Qualified candidates received a direct notification when facilities had vacancies, using automated text messaging. Participants could confirm the available slot (often requiring immediate access) or decline the appointment, depending on their availability.
Did Dr. B Follow Government Mandates and Restrictions?
During the initial vaccine launch, many local and state officials placed strict guidelines for deployment. All immunocompromised and elderly individuals were given priority, barring those who didn’t meet specific guidelines from receiving the vaccine. From there, policies shifted to include age, medical conditions, and occupation as well. Qualified candidates were encouraged to book an appointment online. These loosened restrictions caused a surge in bookings and led to ongoing issues with booking. By joining Dr. B’s platform, users could potentially find an available vaccine in their area at a time when most struggled with appointment accessibility. Using an algorithm to process the waitlist, Dr. B prioritized those on the list, ensuring the website met all vaccine qualifications.
Was Dr. B Successful in Reducing Vaccine Waste?
During the initial vaccine rollout, lack of availability was a major contributing factor. Booking sites flooded with requests as thousands of newly-qualified individuals vied forappointment times. Websites filled within minutes of posting; others crashed under the volume of traffic to the platform. Those struggling with technology were left scrambling or waiting in line at clinics. Many Americans spent hours in local establishments without a standardized waitlist, hoping to receive a walk-in appointment.
Despite being a for-profit company, putting Americans first was a key priority. Many platforms attribute Dr. B as a positive influence in handling vaccine surplus. One Dr. B review highlights how the founder used his funds to develop and integrate the system while keeping registration free to all subscribers.
Estimates have shown that Dr. B sent out over a million notifications to waitlists. These text messages resulted in vaccines in armsinstead of in the trash.
Formulating a Quiet Website Launch
According to Massoumi, vaccine distribution was anything but equal, with communities of color especially struggling to access the potentially life-saving drug. When he developed the website, he wanted to prioritize access for those who have historically had higher barriers to healthcareThe company launched quietly with leaders from the NAACP, Community Action Network, iHeartRadio’s Spanish-speaking channels, and the Indian Health Service. The deliberate initiative gave these communities a jumpstart on the information before the general public.
As word of the platform continued to spread, major news outlets caught wind of the website. The platform skyrocketed in popularity, with approximately 2.5 million registrations when Dr. B closed registrations (as vaccine availability improved).
Collecting Personal Information Online
In the heat of the moment, millions of individuals registered for Dr. B’s service. While many likely didn’t consider the implications of submitting their details online, the company did not jeopardize their privacy. While the company admitted they weren’t governed by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), they still exceeded all privacy laws. Dr. B adopted the same strict protocols held by HIPAA for consumer information online. The website used bank-level encryption to secure all data.
Technological Influence on the Pandemic
While Dr. B wasn’t the only company trying to mitigate the pandemic’s influence, it was a frontrunner in terms of technological impact. Massoumi identified a critical lack within the American healthcare system—an equitable method to reduce waste. While scarce resources existed, there were limited options available for those who need a dose but could not devote hours to find one.
The Dr. B platform applied a service that has proved successful for decades in the aviation industry to modern medicine. Qualified, interested candidates struggled to find a vaccine while pharmacies disposed of expired vaccines. The website helped connect these individuals in a digital, real-time way. Massoumi’s success also highlighted the demand for such products, with the 750 clinics and 2.5 million individuals registered overall. While the initial need for Dr. B has since passed (registrations have closed for the service), taking the user interface, and applying the know-how to other industries may prove successful.
By functionally connecting providers with interested candidates, Massoumi showcased the standby system’s viability overall. An automated system reduces barriers to healthcare, along with issues of inequality. Whether through immunization accessibility or other branches of healthcare, improving access to healthcare services needs to remain a top priority.