The AI Will See You Now
Forward and the Future of Health
Yesterday I rolled up to 180 Sutter Street on my bike, and a young man in an athletic shirt with a subtle blue logo ran out to greet me.
“I’ll watch your bike,” he said. “Just follow me!”
Thus began my mind-blowing visit to Forward, a new health company that aims to replace your primary care doctor with a combination of technology, service, and a range of health practitioners that share access to patient data.
I’d heard about it from founder Adrian Aoun, an ex-Googler and friend of mine, and was prepared to be somewhat skeptical — the company seemed very “Silicon Valley,” with a strong emphasis on brand, design, and concierge-level service, and I wondered if the experience would warrant the hype.
Before arriving, I downloaded the Forward app on my phone and set it up to work with Apple’s Health Kit, syncing my records so my doctor can see any activity recorded by devices synced with my iPhone — scales, sleep trackers, activity monitors, and even fertility apps.
My concierge walked me into the sleek facility and had me stand in the body scanner, which measured my vitals and stored them in the app. A few minutes later, I was in a private room to do a baseline check-up with a smart young doctor.
He and a nurse (all dressed in branded apparel) quickly collected blood, saliva, and urine samples for a battery of tests, including genetic screening for cancer, a cholesterol panel, and various other health checks that I wouldn’t have thought to ask for. I then changed into comfortable athletic wear, versus the standard issue hospital gown, and had a physical.
The doctor walked me through a full set of categories on a giant touch-screen display, ranging from eye health to moods and relationships, and as we talked, keywords from our conversation appeared on the screen. Someone was listening to the consult remotely, keying in my most critical concerns.
At one point, I got to listen to my heart beat (I have a murmur, it turns out), amplified and recorded into the system.
Some might be turned off by the idea of multiple people listening in to a doctor’s visit, but I thought this was genius. I’d never had a consultation last more than 20 minutes, always with a frazzled physician taking notes on a doctor’s pad. Follow-ups were painful, with a new doctor or nurse trying to make sense of someone’s notes from the last visit, and so much information was lost.
My initial Forward visit lasted two hours. I’d never received this level of care in my life — in that time, we covered every aspect of my health.
15 minutes after my blood was drawn, I received my results and could see them charted by category on the giant screen.
I told the doctor I was heading to Africa and Asia in a few weeks, and showed him a scanned photo of my vaccination card. He took a picture of the image on his phone, uploaded it into the app, and came back a few minutes later with the four vaccines I’d need. While a nurse gave me the shots, he used the time to go over my bloodwork and let me know my genetic tests would come back in a few weeks.
It’s hard not to be impressed with Aoun’s creation. Forward made it a million times easier to deal with my health proactively. It’s not terribly expensive — $149 a month — and I suspect it will save me a lot of money in the long run as I take care of minor issues before they become real problems.
And differential pricing is part of Aoun’s vision: the cost savings generated by technology (the app will use AI to answer common questions and triage patient requests) will enable the company to offer discounted services to lower-income populations as Forward rolls out in new cities.