12/20/2013 05:46 pm ET Updated Feb 19, 2014

Inside 2013's Health Care Trends (And Why They Matter)

Health care is perhaps the most important service we consume. Our lives literally depend on it, every day. But how much do we really know about our own relationship with the health care system?

We may not think of ourselves as "consumers" of doctor appointments, lab tests, and hospital visits (at least, not in the same way we see ourselves as consumers of technology, apparel, entertainment, etc.). But most of us exercise some choice in how we consume health care -- and compared to those other industries, surprisingly little is understood about our health consumption habits.

Fortunately, the Web is changing all of that. The information era has already completely rewired industries like travel and retail. And while health care has lagged behind, we are now beginning to see the same major innovations. I believe that soon -- very soon -- we'll have a critical mass of high-fidelity, closed-loop, real-time data that will transform how we experience health care.

I've been fortunate enough to have a front-row seat to this development. Because my company is helping millions of patients search for health care providers, book appointments online, and leave reviews, we have an incredibly interesting window into health care consumer behavior.

Which cities book the most preventive appointments? Where do patients tend to use mobile phones for health care access? How do men and women differ in their relationship to (and satisfaction with) their doctors? When are people scrambling for health care and when are they procrastinating? These are the sorts of questions we can now answer -- and we found the answers compelling enough to publish them in the 2013 U.S. Health Checkup, a compendium of cutting-edge health care trends from the past year.

Just think about the potential. If a certain city isn't scheduling enough annual dermatology screenings, that could spur the city to organize a skin health campaign. If women tend to give high ratings to their OB-GYNs, this can inform how other medical specialists strive to increase patient satisfaction. If there is a growing regional demand for flu visits, we may have to quickly prepare for a major outbreak. These examples are just the tip of the iceberg.

Of course, developing great insights into health care consumption is only the first step. The next (and much more challenging) step is to respond to these patterns in a thoughtful and comprehensive way. At ZocDoc, we'll continue to publish the annual U.S. Health Checkup because we are committed to building this conversation -- and we encourage others to join in.

This will mean something unique for insurers, hospitals, doctors, and other players in the health care system. Everyone who is collecting real-time health care data has something they can bring to the table. But creating a system for sharing and cross-referencing the data we can safely release should be a high priority for all of us.

After all, we all want more efficient and more effective health care. But it is only through a deep, robust understanding of our relationship with the current health care system that we can truly begin to make the kind of improvements we all long for.

ZocDoc's 2013 US Health Checkup - An infographic by the team at ZocDoc