I went to book an annual physical recently but gave up, beyond frustrated.
My health provider’s online portal doesn’t give a “time slots available” calendar view and their phone number had a busy signal. I then went to my health insurance’s mobile app to find out what they cover (or don’t). They needed “specific CPT” codes to ascertain which blood work was necessary (and what I’d otherwise be billed for). Then they pointed out my doctor can’t draw my blood at the office; I had to go to one of my insurer’s in-network labs (which is nowhere near my doctor’s office).
Imagine if you could just drop by a high-tech health facility for a physical while out grocery shopping or picking up dry-cleaning? Picture a place with 3D body scanners, voice-recognition screens, and AI-powered genomic data that syncs with wearables and mobile devices, and tracks your progress on a daily basis. Clinicians on site? Check. In-house labs? Absolutely.
Well, it exists, and it’s called Forward.
Founded in January 2016 by former Google exec Adrian Aoun, Forward is still in its seed funding stage but has some serious backers, including Eric Schmidt and Marc Benioff. It now has two sites in California; a third location, in Newport Beach’s Fashion Island Mall, was announced today.
I dropped by the LA location at the newly reopened Westfield Century City Mall, where Adrian Williams, Membership Advisor and former professional baseball player, gave me the tour.
First stop: 3D body scan. I stood on the lit-up scanner’s base, looked ahead at the screen and cameras, while inserting my digits into a recessed sensor. Within seconds, my vital signs appeared.
“These will now be saved as your baseline health analysis, and shared with your clinical advisor, who is waiting in one of our exam rooms,” explained Williams.
I was then showed a range of wearables Forward provides for clients, including the Oura Ring sleep-management device, the Nokia Steel, and the Misfit Ray, as well as a MoleScope for moles and Kardia EKG for heart checks.
We continued the tour, as if this was a real appointment, and moved into the rooms beyond. The whole decor is reminiscent of a Scandinavian anteroom, all polished woods, flattering light, and flat screens shimmering with real-time data feeds.
As Williams talked me through what would happen next, I reclined happily in the zero-g chair. There’s no scratchy paper gowns or scary examination table, and doctors here don’t wear scrubs. It’s all very civilized, as you’d expect for a premium service; prices are $149 a month for unlimited use membership.
At this stage, my mobile app would be populated with all the information gathered so far, including a 12-minute, on-site full metabolic panel. Other data sources include genomic, prior test results, and medications. As this was a press visit, we checked out anonymized case study data on screen instead.
“Your doctor would talk you through your results,” said Williams, “And come up with an action plan to improve your health outcomes. The screen has voice recognition so the conversation is recorded, using natural language processing, so the doctor doesn’t have to type in notes and can focus on the patient.”
The sample data set was for someone who had 36 specific genes (biomarkers), which indicated high risk of both cancer and heart disease. Ouch.
“Once we have the baseline set, we move forward, using data science, and clinical care expertise, but also setting personal goals for the patient so they take responsibility for their health,” said Williams.
Ah, this is the problem with truly personalized medicine. Yes, we can have a vast amount of knowledge, especially with emerging advances in DNA sequencing, but are people ready to take action to offset what (they now know) is coming down the road? Will holistic health concierge platforms go the way of gym memberships? Do you have one? Fantastic. How often do you go? Thought so.
On a personal note, I can see the plus side of populating a robust digital health platform now. Because later on (aging is inevitable, even in LA) my concierge can communicate with doctors, particularly if something terrible happens, like a stroke. A more cheering thought is that my future elder-care style-assistive robot could help out around the house and act as a medical advocate on my behalf.
Would I sign up for Forward? Maybe. Would I go regularly or just use the app and connected wearables to get obsessive about my vital signs, biomarkers, and personal health stats? I’ll get back to you on that. It would certainly be more convenient than the current process for setting up an annual physical.