Story at a glance

  • New companies are trying out different solutions to health care issues.
  • You can get your body scanned at a kiosk to keep track of your numbers.
  • New clinics streamline the patient’s experience with the help of technology.
  • While none of these companies can solve all problems in health care, they are changing the way that we can seek care and providing innovative solutions.

One of the largest areas for startups and technology is focused on medicine and health care. But besides developing new therapies and treatments for diseases, there’s also been a push to provide better care to people in everyday situations.

There are several problems — too many to name here — that people face when it comes to their health care. For one, most people don’t know what their personal data is or how to track it. Emergency departments are perpetually overwhelmed; doctors only see their patients for an average of about 17 minutes. These are a handful of companies that are working out solutions to some of these issues and are changing the way patients can receive care.

Monitoring your health

Ready to feel like you’ve been transported into the future? Get your body scanned.

Companies like Higi and mPort are putting body scanning stations or booths in malls and other publicly accessible areas. Higi’s tagline on their website reads, “Know your numbers. Own your health.” In an age where our data is everywhere but not necessarily in our possession, these companies are putting our data back in our hands.

The scanners can measure your weight, body fat percentage and blood pressure. You could make it part of your regular routine, like going for a scan every time you go food shopping at your local grocery. Both companies have apps that help users keep track of their numbers. Now what you do with the data, that is up to you.

Getting urgent care

If you live in New York or New Jersey and you’ve got a nasty cut, you don’t need to go to a hospital’s emergency room to get help anymore; you can head to the nearest CityMD to get patched up instead.

Urgent care has become a separate category of service outside of hospitals. Although these clinics may not be equipped for bigger emergencies like people who suffer serious physical injuries from accidents or violence, they can ease the burden on emergency departments of hospitals by taking care of people who have the flu, minor cuts or other non-life-threatening health issues.

The first CityMD clinic opened in 2010 with the goal of making health care more inclusive by serving people in their communities where they live and work. “No one should be an outsider when it comes to health care,” says founder and CEO Richard Park on the website.

CityMD accepts most insurance, and unlike emergency departments, they offer aftercare and a wide range of services like pediatric care, X-rays, vaccinations and others. The average wait time is 8 minutes, clinics are open every day and no appointments are needed, according to the website. With more than 100 locations and counting, CityMD has become a regular sight in New York.

Seeing your GP

Going to see your primary care provider or general practitioner can be a lengthy ordeal. You make an appointment, arrive on time or even early and are still made to wait a long time before you can get seen. Long waits are a hallmark of our health care system, but the startup Forward doesn’t think it has to be this way.

Forward is a modern, technology-assisted approach to going to see your doctor. Their mission is to “deliver complete, preventive primary care by combining best-in-class doctors with advanced medical technology,” says Robert Sebastian, co-founder of Forward, in an email to Changing America.

Forward clinic with body scanner on the left. Photo courtesy of Forward.

In the virtual tour video on their website, one of the doctors explains there’s no waiting room because there’s no waiting. You check in on an iPad and walk over to an in-house designed body scanner. In the exam room, the doctor shows an infrared scanner that helps them find the vein in your arm to draw blood. The in-house laboratory can process that blood sample in 12 minutes so the doctor and patient can go over the results on the same visit. In addition to general assessment of health and medical history, Forward health providers also go through genetic analysis and put together preventive plans with their patients.

Infrared scanner being used to find veins. Photo courtesy of Forward.

Forward charges a monthly membership fee, and this was partly because health insurance isn’t working from their point of view. “We started by asking, ‘Can you build a truly great product while answering to insurance companies, rather than to the patient you intend to serve?’” says Sebastian.

They decided the answer was no, and their current membership fees are $149 per month. But for 30 percent of their members who are uninsured, this is a good way to get health care, says Sebastian. Members can also pay the fees using a health savings account (HSA) or flexible savings account (FSA), according to Sebastian.

Inspired by his grandfather who came to the U.S. from the Philippines to be a doctor, Sebastian says, “My grandfather told me not to go into medicine. It was too hard to practice the way that he had for 50 years.” Forward’s strength is making technology work for the patient. They’ve automated repetitive work that inflates costs in the traditional system, Sebastian tells Changing America.

The guiding thought is, “How might we make a system so good, that my grandfather would tell me to go into medicine?” says Sebastian. “We focus on offering proactive care, not waiting to react and treat the symptom. On maximizing our members’ time with their doctor and care team. On the needs of our members, not insurance.”

Women-focused gynecology, health check-ups and guidance

After struggling with figuring out her health insurance and where to get care while at a job at Google, Tia CEO Carolyn Witte decided that there had to be a better way to get health care. To Witte, this means an integrated approach that assesses a person’s health in a holistic way. Even with health insurance, it was too difficult to get care, especially going from one specialist to another.

Tia started as an online platform for women to get information about health topics like their menstrual cycle or anxiety. In 2019, Tia opened their first in-person clinic for women in New York. They provide gynecological services as well as overall health assessments, acupuncture and seminars. Unlike Forward, they do take insurance, although becoming a member costs $150 annually. They do waive the membership fee for those who are financially unable to cover that cost, and for International Women’s Day are donating 100 memberships and hosting a “free day of care” on Mar. 8.

Tia clinic exam room. Photo credit: Kezi Ban @ Blonde Artists courtesy of Rockwell Group.

Walking into the bright and airy clinic, you’re greeted by friendly staff who make sure each visit goes smoothly. Afterwards, the nurse practitioners and medical assistants communicate with patients through their chat function on the website or app and can send digital copies of test results through the system.

Although Witte says that they are hoping to be able to serve a membership of 4,000 women in the near future, it’s unclear whether this model for providing services will be able to scale up to serve even more women. Additional brick-and-mortar locations would increase costs even more and whether the clinics can be financially sustainable even if they accept most insurance plans is unknown.

Tia, while aiming to become a full care platform, can’t solve every health care problem, so they are working on building bridges. “That means deciding with what your expertise is and what you are really innovating on and then choosing how and where to partner,” says Witte. “We really think about our streams as innovating on technology and experience connected to care delivery.” They empower providers to deliver better quality experience to patients, and at lower costs to boot. This allows them to aim at moving “those core levers in our healthcare system that make it so expensive,” adds Witte. “We need to also make it actually drive better outcomes and reduce the cost of care's really about changing care delivery itself.”

The health care of tomorrow?

It’s unlikely that any of these models will solve all health care problems, and they are not designed to do that. Each have a vision and fulfill a specific purpose for a specific audience, and perhaps that’s the point. What we’ll find out with the success or failure of these startups is whether focusing on the manner in which care is delivered can be a viable and sustainable way to provide health care for a wider range of people.

Published on Mar 04, 2020