The market won't stand still. While a bunch of us are futzing around with patient portals, PHRs, patient kiosks, and other tools to add convenience to health care delivery, along comes ZocDoc (http://www.zocdoc.com/) which allows online scheduling of physician and dentist appointments for participating providers. Physicians pay for the service and it's free to patients.
Online scheduling has been around on the web for awhile. Booking tickets, for example, for everything from movies to airplanes. And www.opentable.com allows free restaurant reservation booking in a number of cities. Like opentable, Zocdoc also allows patients to review their physicians on the site.
Physician offices are trickier than other businesses, however, because health care operates so much like a cottage industry. The workflow issues are always full of gotchas. Unless Zocdoc is interfaced with the physician's scheduling system, it seems like the only way to make it work will be to use it as the primary scheduling system in a practice, which could be problematic since there's no billing function. I'm also not sure how they've tackled the security issues, particularly with respect to the HIPAA security rule. With no in-person authentication, there seems to be something here that won't pass the basic HIPAA sniff test.
I think this is a cool idea though, and any innnovation pushes us all forward, even if the innovating company itself doesn't survive. My guess is that this type of service is highly unlikely to survive on its own, as a stand-alone. I could see EHRs or health information exchanges (HIEs) interfacing to the service or licensing the technology to build into their own suite of services. Zocdoc's best hope, and I'm sure what they're banking on, is to be acquired by Microsoft or Google who are looking to add to the service bundle offered in their PHRs.