Startups

How Forward is trying to move primary care out of the doctor’s office

The startup is rolling out eight-by-eight-foot pods in offices, gyms, and malls across the US.
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Forward

4 min read

Imagine a world in which instead of scheduling an appointment with your primary care doctor when you have a cold or need a routine checkup, you go inside an eight-by-eight-foot pod in your office building, gym, or local mall.

That’s the world Forward—a startup Google alums Adrian Aoun and Robert Sebastian founded in 2016—is trying to create with its new CarePods.

The startup first announced in November 2023 that it had raised $100 million to build and deploy the CarePods, which it bills as the “world’s first artificial intelligence (AI) doctor’s office.”

“CarePods combine advanced diagnostics, personalized health plans, and a premium in-person experience—empowering you to live a healthier and happier life,” Forward executives said at the time.

Now, Forward is rolling out the pods in malls, gyms, and offices in the San Francisco Bay Area, New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia, with plans to expand across the US.

How do the CarePods work?

Inside the CarePod, there’s a seat for the patient and a large screen with a number of AI-powered health apps tailored to specific conditions, like heart health or diabetes. A Forward doctor, who connects to the CarePod remotely, monitors the patient and is available to answer questions and offer medical advice.

The pods offer a series of diagnostic tests depending on what the patient needs. For example, a patient could check their kidney function via a blood test by using a small device located inside the pod that lets patients draw their own blood, Aoun told Healthcare Brew, adding that blood test results usually come back within 10 minutes.

There are also saliva and nasal tests inside the pods that a patient can administer themselves to check for some infectious diseases like strep throat and Covid-19, according to Aoun. If a patient receives a diagnosis, the doctor monitoring them can prescribe any needed medications, procedures, or follow-up care, he added.

Combining the doctor’s advice with AI, the patient receives a personalized care plan, which they can track via an accompanying mobile app that compiles their health data. Users “own their own data,” and Forward does not sell any patient data, Aoun said.

Patients pay a $99 monthly fee for access to the pods. Forward does not accept health insurance.

A not-so-small goal

With the CarePods, Aoun said his goal is to “deliver healthcare to a billion people.”

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“Even the big healthcare systems, like Kaiser, have 12 or 13 million users. [...] We don’t get out of bed in tech for 13 million users,” Aoun said. “What we ask ourselves is […] what would it take for a healthcare system to truly get delivered to the entire planet? That’s what we’re trying to do. It will take a while. It’s not an easy thing to go after, but it is possible to do.”

The Forward team chose to place the CarePods in offices, gyms, and malls because they’re locations where people spend a lot of time—and that helps to make healthcare more accessible, Aoun said, adding that his end goal is for patients to no longer need to go to doctor’s offices to receive care.

“What you’re trying to do is you’re trying to productize all of healthcare,” he said. “What you’re hoping is that people aren’t visiting a doctor’s office, but people are visiting a product, whether that’s a CarePod or the next evolution of the CarePod.”

Some are more skeptical than others

Arthur Caplan, a professor of bioethics at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine, agreed that in the future, a lot of care will take place outside of the doctor’s office. But, he expressed reservations over whether CarePods will be the place to go.

Because the pods haven’t been vetted by any professional medical groups, like the American College of Internal Medicine, Caplan said it’s unclear whether they’ll be able to deliver quality care.

“Until the pod can pass the boards for primary care and these specialties, I think it’s too soon to say, ‘Come in here and get your care,’” Caplan said.

The $99 monthly membership fee could also be a barrier for many patients, he added.

“That strikes me as boutique as opposed to expanding access,” Caplan said.

Still, Caplan said he believes the CarePod, or a similar product, has the potential to be successful down the line as the technology becomes more advanced and vetting protocols are set in place.

“There’s just a lot of infrastructure that doesn’t exist yet,” he said. “But I do think there’s a future here.”

Navigate the healthcare industry

Healthcare Brew covers pharmaceutical developments, health startups, the latest tech, and how it impacts hospitals and providers to keep administrators and providers informed.