The Lowdown on Forward Clinics

Do you know how I know that Forward Health could be on to something? Just a couple of days ago, their pre-roll ad played before I watched a YouTube video, and I didn’t skip it! I have been known to click that Skip Ad button so fast that it practically burns a hole in my monitor. This time, though, I not only didn’t skip it, but I watched the entire 4 minutes and forgot what video I had actually clicked to watch! Now I attribute a lot of that that to my consumer health geekiness, but if I take a step back, I can see a number of things in their ad that make them interesting and tell us what they see as differentiators in the primary care battleground.
For those of you who aren’t familiar, as I wasn’t, Forward Health is a membership-based chain of primary care clinics founded in 2016 by Adrian Aoun, who used to lead Special Projects at Google. They tout a pretty impressive array of AI-based, precision medicine tools. Now I’ve heard those words for many years, but this may have been the first where I’ve heard them described in a way that non-healthcare people, a.k.a. consumers, could understand what they mean and why they matter. And to me, it’s because they focused on technology being part of a new kind of consumer experience.
Right off the bat, the host opens the clinic door, invites you in and says, “We’re a new type of doctor’s office that provides preventative primary care.” As he walks to the self-service check-in kiosk, he talks about how One of the cool things about Forward is you can schedule same-day visits, there’s no wait times, and we don’t charge copays. He rattled off those features like they were on a checklist of what makes a consumer-first health experience. And maybe he’s right!
The ad goes on to demonstrate some of their cool tech: their biometric body scanner that creates a thermal map of your body, the red light spectroscopy scanner that shines light through your hand and finger to check blood flow in real time, their infrared vein mapper that highlights the veins in your arm to make for a nice clean poke, the on-site blood lab that takes just 12 minutes to process your sample, their integration with 23 and me to look at genetic predispositions and health risks, and their app with a chatbot that averages a 3-5 minute response.
At first it felt a little off-putting for a walk-through of a primary care clinic to not show any people other than the host. But then I realized that with each technology they demonstrated, they explained how it enabled their doctors to sit with you and co-create a comprehensive health plan together. As they explained, “You’re sitting side by side with your doctor reviewing your blood information understanding what these metrics mean seeing what’s in range out of range in real time. And if you identify an area of opportunity, well then you’re able to start building a preventative plan right away around nutrition, around exercise, monitoring blood work, monitoring prescriptions, a much more comprehensive plan rather than just reactive care.”
Digging a little deeper, I found that Forward appears to have 22 locations in 16 cities and one more coming soon. Membership is $149 a month, and it looks like you can use HSA or FSA funds. And when I dug through the FAQs on their website, one response was particularly intriguing. To the question of Does Forward accept health insurance, the response said, “Forward does not accept health insurance because we believe health insurance companies are the root of our broken healthcare system. We’re working to rebuild the entire healthcare system from the ground up in order to fix it.”
It’s important to note that this type of care model isn’t for everybody. The body scanner alone might scare off some patients, and not everybody gets excited to walk through their genetic predispositions on a GINORMOUS video screen. And that’s OK. My takeaways on Forward are:
One, at least on the surface, they have some pretty cool tech.
Two, they emphasize prevention as part of a true comprehensive health plan.
Three, their language echoes their mission. Their explanations of how their technologies lead to a better experience are admirable. I hope more practices start doing that.
Let’s all challenge ourselves to not only design and build consumer-first experiences, but let’s also do better at explaining those experiences to consumers. That’s another way that we’ll build the Healthcare of Tomorrow.

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