Many doctors avoid going to the doctor.
There are probably many reasons for that — among them, the reality that we can answer many of our own health questions. But I think there is also an unfortunate reality to the fact that doctors know how flawed the current medical system is… and they don’t have the patience to deal with it.
So I have to admit that I was interested to read a description of what sounds like the doctor’s office of the future. Although I was skeptical, I have to say — it sounds pretty good! But there are some important caveats to keep in mind.
A startup called Forward is trying to reinvent how primary care happens. It's part of an overall shift and exploration of tech-enabled concierge medicine... using different forms of telehealth to support an all-in-one paid medical model.
First, you subscribe to Forward, as you would a gym. Called “tech-enabled direct primary care,” you pay a monthly fee that covers labs and care. The experience is meant to merge the best of hospitality, tech, and healthcare. "We're trying to make healthcare like all the other services we're accustomed to using in our lives,” Forward's Chief Medical Officer Nate Favini, M.D. told Fierce Healthcare
Admittedly, that’s a description that puts my hackles up. To me, healthcare should be much more than hospitality. Truly good healthcare isn’t about making sure patients are comfortable all of the time. It’s about collaborating with patients to go on a journey of their own healing.
But the reality is that Forward’s model has a lot of compelling elements. Patients don’t wait; every appointment begins on time. Costs are saved by reducing the number of support staff involved in patient check-ins and even taking basic stats (that’s done with a body scanner.) The care room has been reinvented to allow doctor and patient to face each other in a serene and comfortable setting. Every appointment is a luxurious 60 minutes and covers a variety of holistic elements, including things like nutrition and even genetics.
So much of what Forward is doing is simply better than how we do it today.
But I worry about a model like this for a few reasons:
- Patients should be treated as people, not consumers.
The “shadow side” of a model based on hospitality is that we begin to view our patients as “customers” not as people whom we have a sacred duty to care for. In the new model, doctors become more interested in profit margins and satisfaction scores than they do about the Hippocratic oath… and perhaps giving patients the care they need, even if it’s not always the care they want in that moment.
- Everyone deserves excellent care, not just those who can pay for a membership.
Although this membership seems affordable, I worry that having too many of the country’s healthiest people buying their own memberships could create a situation where we’re not considering healthcare as a community. Rather, that we’re considering healthcare as something that we must get for ourselves, above all.
- People forget that healthcare is both for primary care, and for situations when we are truly sick.
Not all healthcare should be fun or comfortable. Sometimes healthcare is a battle for your life. In many cases, healthcare demands the highest level and intensity of care and collaboration. And that’s a reality that even a beautiful lobby can’t gloss over.
Long story short: I think what Forward is doing is great. Also: we need more than just prettier healthcare or easier healthcare or healthcare the way patients want it. We need to make better healthcare — and that involves patient experience as well as making sure healthcare providers can work in profoundly better ways.