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Silicon Valley’s take on free-market healthcare

Forward’s futuristic body scanner.

Forward is Silicon Valley’s futuristic doctor’s office that
looks “like
an Apple Store meets ‘Westworld.’

For $150 a month, it acts as your primary care provider,
along with providing some extra perks and technology used with
the intent to keep you healthier. 

It’s a type of doctor’s office that’s similar to direct primary
care, a small but fast-growing movement of pediatricians,
family-medicine physicians, and internists. This group doesn’t
accept insurance, and instead charges a monthly membership fee
that covers most of what the average patient needs, including
visits and prescription drugs at much lower prices.

Direct primary care practices are growing at a time when
high-deductible health plans are on the rise
— a survey in
September found that 51% of workers had a plan that required them
to pay up to $1,000 out of pocket for healthcare until insurance
picks up most of the rest. For
more on direct primary care
, here’s a snapshot of how
it differs from a traditional doctor’s visit.

Forward CEO Adrian Aoun, who formerly worked at Google, didn’t
really think about fitting into that DPC model, and
doesn’t call what Forward is doing direct primary

Instead, he said Forward is to healthcare what the iPhone is
to communications. While the Blackberry phone initially
gained traction because companies supplied it for their
employees, consumers ended up opting to get their own smartphones
that were easier to use. In his mind, the existing
employer-backed healthcare system is the Blackberry, and
Forward’s model is the smartphone. 

“We want to rebuild healthcare from the patient’s perspective,”
Aoun told Business Insider.

According to Aoun, technology plays a big role in that rebuilding
process. It’s a way to”supercharge” doctors, Aoun said, so
that they have more time with patients and it’s used effectively.

Forward’s “baseline” appointments — that is, when you first
join — run about an hour long. The difference is that he hopes
appointments won’t be filled with time-consuming tests. “What we
don’t think is it should be spent on ‘dumb things,'” he

To take away some of those procedures, you check in
with iPads, get scanned using a proprietary all-in-one
scanner that looks at your weight, temperature, heart rate and
other vital signs, and your history is projected on a screen in
the room.

The difference between direct primary care and Forward 

In January, Forward launched
after raising an undisclosed amount
from Khosla Ventures,
Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund, Eric Schmidt, and Marc Benioff. The
practice charges $150 per month (billed annually), which is
higher than the price point for most DPC practices, which have
monthly fees that are usually between $50-70, depending on how
old you are.

Forward is also offering more perks than a traditional DPC
office, including
certain fertility services,
along with wanting to use a
lot of the data you collect from monitors. It also comes with an
app that you can use to access your information and doctors, and
genetic testing to screen for hereditary cancer risks. Like many
direct primary care practices, Forward offers generic
prescriptions in-house along with some blood tests.  

The practice has also faced the same problems as other
direct primary care practices. Aoun said he’s seen a lot of
folks swing by the San Francisco office, say it’s awesome, but
then almost immediately ask about whether insurance will cover
the cost. 

It’s similar to
what’s happened to Dr. Matthew Abinante
, who opened his
practice in Huntington Beach, California, in September. Since
then, he has had two people call his office to find out more
about his practice. When he explained the system, he said, the
callers thought it had to be a scam. The misunderstanding about
how no-insurance based business models work is one of the biggest
hurdles doctors face when starting direct primary care.

But Aoun said he’s optimistic about Forward catching on. The
practice is growing pretty well, he said, and he doesn’t have a
target for how many patients the first office takes on. The extra
variable of technology could make it so the practice could take
on a lot more patients than the typical direct primary care
practice, which can vary anywhere from 300 to 1,000 patients per

BI Graphics_Healthcare ChartSkye Gould/Business Insider

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