How to feel good about scheduling doctor visits on the fly

Scheduling a doctor’s appointment online beats dealing with hold times and back-and-forth on the phone, but it also delivers an important social benefit, argues ZocDoc co-founder and CEO Cyrus Massoumi.

Here’s how: in coming years, the U.S. will likely have a significant shortfall of doctors– perhaps 125,000 fewer than needed by 2025, estimates the Association of American Medical Colleges, one of several agencies predicting a shortage. Already, wait times to see doctors can range into the months for some specialties or areas of the country.

So if cancelled appointments can be reallocated to another patient rather than going unused, it helps all patients see doctors– and with luck get cured– faster, boosting overall levels of wellness. “It’s adding supply to the healthcare pipeline,” Massoumi said. (If he sounds more MBA than MD, that’s because he is– he holds degrees from Columbia Business School and Wharton, and honed that consultant-speak with a stint at McKinsey.)

His online medical-appointment company allows patients to book visits to doctors’ offices at the last minute– often into slots cancelled by others. Almost half of ZocDoc appointments are scheduled within 24 hours, with some patients landing appointments just hours ahead of time.

Finding a way to use what would otherwise become wasted time helped land ZocDoc $95 million in venture backing from firms including DST Global, Goldman Sachs and Khosla Ventures. The firm is using that cash to expand into more cities–Seattle launched Monday–bringing its total to 14. In the next 18 months, ZocDoc hopes to cover the whole country, Massoumi said.

Tech wrap: Netflix gets subscribers back

Netflix’s fourth-quarter revenue outpaced Wall Street’s expectations as the video rental website reversed subscriber losses to sign up more than 600,000 new U.S. customers in the period, pushing its shares up. Netflix posted a 47 percent leap in fourth-quarter revenue to $876 million, outpacing an average forecast for $857.9 million, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Symantec took the rare step of advising customers to stop using one of its products, saying its pcAnywhere software for accessing remote PCs is at increased risk of getting hacked after blueprints of that software were stolen. The announcement is the company’s most direct acknowledgement to date that a 2006 theft of its source code put customers at risk of attack. Also on Wednesday, Symantec reported a higher quarterly profit and issued an outlook in line with Wall Street estimates.

Europe proposed strict new data privacy rules, putting greater responsibility on companies such as Facebook to protect users’ information, and threatening those who breach the code with hefty fines. But the move, which legislators say is designed to better defend children against predators, has rattled major technology and Internet-based companies, with executives concerned the legislation will be almost impossible to implement in full or will do serious damage to their business models.

Tech wrap: Apple earnings lay waste to expectations

Apple’s fiscal first-quarter results blew past Wall Street expectations, fueled by robust holiday sales of its iPhones and iPads. Apple sold 37.04 million iPhones and 15.43 million iPad tablets, outpacing already heightened expectations for a strong holiday season. Sales of iPhones and iPads more than doubled from a year ago. Revenue leapt 73 percent to $46.33 billion, handily beating the average Wall Street analyst estimate of $38.91 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. Apple reported a net profit of $13.06 billion, or $13.87 a share. Analysts had expected Apple to earn $10.16 per share.

“This is all about innovation, you have to out-innovate and delight the customer. Apple is the only company that knows how to do that. The guidance is phenomenal,” said Trip Chowdry at Global Equities Research.

Yahoo’s net revenue and profit fell slightly in the fourth quarter, the struggling Internet company’s last quarter before new Chief Executive Scott Thompson took the reins. Yahoo said it earned $296 million in net income in the three months ended Dec. 31, or 24 cents a share, compared with $312 million, or 24 cents a share, in the year-ago period. Yahoo, which fired former CEO Carol Bartz in September and appointed Thompson in January, projected that its net revenue in the first quarter would range between $1.025 billion and $1.105 billion.

Tech wrap: New RIM CEO says no drastic change needed

RIM’s new CEO Thorsten Heins, who joined RIM in 2007 and previously served as a chief operating officer, said during a conference call that he would hone the current strategy rather than abandon it. “I don’t think that there is some drastic change needed. We are evolving … but this is not a seismic change,” Heins said. RIM’s U.S.-traded shares tumbled as investors wondered whether Heins could reverse the BlackBerry maker’s decline, closing the day down 8.5 percent.

The founder of file-sharing website Megaupload was ordered to be held in custody by a New Zealand court, as he denied charges of Internet piracy and money laundering and said authorities were trying to portray the blackest picture of him. U.S. authorities want to extradite Kim Dotcom, a German national also known as Kim Schmitz, on charges he masterminded a scheme that made more than $175 million in a few short years by copying and distributing music, movies and other copyrighted content without authorization. Megaupload’s lawyer has said the company simply offered online storage.

The Supreme Court ruled that police cannot put a GPS device on a suspect’s car to track his movements without a warrant. The high court ruled that placement of a device on a vehicle and using it to monitor the vehicle’s movements was covered by U.S. constitutional protections against unreasonable searches and seizures of evidence. “A majority of the court acknowledged that advancing technology, like cellphone tracking, gives the government unprecedented ability to collect, store, and analyze an enormous amount of information about our private lives,” Steven Shapiro of the American Civil Liberties Union said.

Analysts to new RIM CEO: Just launch better phones already

Research in Motion has appointed a new CEO in an effort to appease investors who clamored for the ouster of its co-CEO’s  Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie, the architects of the Blackberry.  Analysts described the appointment as a step in the right direction but they were still anxious after Thorsten Heins’ first presentation to Wall Street as CEO.

The executive vowed to improve RIM’s marketing to help win over consumers particularly in the U.S. market where it has lost out to Apple and others . That’s all very well, according to Wall Street analysts but what about its’ much delayed launch of its next generation of BlackBerrys?

“That’s not going to make a difference. What they have is not a messaging problem but a product and market structure problem,” said Pacific Crest analyst James Faucette. “They have to have products better than the iPhone or Android. They don’t have products that are competitive with those let alone better.”

Hear RIM’s new CEO. Then speak your mind.

YouTube Preview Image

For many BlackBerry users and smartphone industry pundits, this Youtube video was their first close-up look at new Research in Motion CEO Thorsten Heins.

RIM, which announced Heins’ elevation and the resignations of co-CEOs Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis on Sunday night, no doubt posted the clip in hopes of introducing the world to their new frontman, and getting their message out there.

Judging by the torrent of biting comments that followed, being “on track” might not have been the best message to relay. Many investors and consumers have been calling for a new strategy to stem the BlackBerry’s market share slide.

Fourth ‘Underworld’ film leads domestic box office

Vampires and werewolves lured moviegoers to theaters this weekend as the fourth “Underworld” film topped domestic box office charts and brought in an estimated $38.8 million around the world.  

“Underworld: Awakening” stars Kate Beckinsale as a vampire leading the charge in a battle against humans trying to drive her species and the werewolves to extinction. 

The fourth movie opened stronger than two of the three earlier films in the franchise, which opened in 2003.
 ”Awakening” pulled in $25.4 million at North American (U.S. and Canadian) theaters from Friday through Sunday, plus $13.4 million from 36 international markets, distributor Sony said on Sunday.  

Could Zynga gamble with friends?

Investors were salivating on Friday at the prospect of Zynga breaking into online gambling. The company said it is in “active conversations with potential partners” to try and figure out the market, which sent its shares up 7 percent.

Last month, the U.S. Justice Department declared that only online betting on sports is unlawful, setting the stage for some U.S. states to legalize online gambling.

Melissa Riahei, general counsel at the online gaming company, U.S. Digital gaming, said Zynga would not be able to enter the $35 billion online casino market on its own. If Internet gaming is legalized, Zynga would have to partner with an operator that could get a license for Internet gambling, like a casino, and have to figure out which states it can work in.

More vampires and werewolves at your local cineplex

Impatient Twilight fans rejoice: vampires and werewolves are staging another movie-theater invasion.

This time, it’s the fourth movie in the “Underworld” series starring Kate Beckinsale, which distributor Sony projects will ring up U.S. and Canadian ticket sales in the low-$20 million range from Friday through Sunday. The newest installment, “Underworld: Awakening”, sees humans trying to drive vampires and werewolves to extinction.

“Red Tails,” a George Lucas-produced story about Tuskegee Airmen starring Terrence Howard and Cuba Gooding Jr., also reaches theaters. Twentieth Century Fox is releasing the movie and hoping for opening-weekend sales of in the $8 million to $10 million range.

SOPA, the Internet, and the benefits of a mutual enemy

That giant sucking sound you hear is the life being drained from SOPA and PIPA.

In an astonishingly effective campaign, a number of prominent websites decided on Jan. 18 to act as though they were being censored. SOPA — the House Stop Online Piracy Act , and PIPA, the Senate’s Protect IP Act  — would, in fact, have little or no impact on U.S. sites but the message was clear: The Net is one seamless organism. An attack on my friend, or even my enemy, is an attack on me.

The big players that made a big show of support for the anti-SOPA/PIPA cause included Wikipedia, which completely shut down its U.S. site, and and (I work for the latter, and both are owned by Condé Nast).

Some big players did not get involved in the protest, including Twitter (which even belittled Wikipedia’s demonstration as “silly”) and Facebook.