Welcome to our “Innovators Worth Watching” series, spotlighting interesting and potentially disruptive players across a spectrum of industries.
Primary care is the all-important gatekeeper of one’s health. But primary care is complex, hard to access, and fading into obscurity. Visits revolving around a specific problem, like a sore throat or a rash, are declining, while costs for primary care are rising. A company called 98point6 is working to use technology to save primary care.
98point6 puts primary care directly in the hands of consumers by allowing people to receive quick and accurate diagnoses of conditions normally treated in primary care offices via their app. Patients log into the app, and begin by sharing symptoms with the app’s AI. The user then connects to a board-certified physician who works with them to diagnose conditions and develop a plan of action using text, photos, and video chat. At the end of the conversation, the physician will explain the diagnosis and treatment plan, and call in any needed prescriptions or tests to the most convenient location.
98point6’s model of care is a promising model in a time where healthcare is becoming more consumer-driven, and patients value convenience in care. But is it disruptive to traditional, in-person primary care? We put it to our six-question test.
1. Does it target people whose only alternative is to buy nothing at all (nonconsumers) or who are overserved by existing offerings in the market?
Yes. Traditional primary care does too much under one roof, overcomplicating procedures and overserving some patients who may only need a quick diagnosis and plan of action. 98point6 targets these overserved patients by making care vastly simpler. Like retail clinics, 98point6 provides quick diagnoses and care of simple-to-treat conditions, but takes away the need to go to a clinic entirely.
For employers, it targets companies whose employees are nonconsumers of traditionally burdensome and unhelpful health benefits. Instead, it provides a health benefit employers can offer that actually addresses common health concerns without the paperwork and hassle associated with insurance plans.
2. Is the offering not as good as existing offerings as judged by historical measures of performance?
Yes. Patients typically seek primary care in an office, where the physicians are not only able to physically see what is ailing their patients, but also have tools that aid in practice (such as an otoscope to examine ears). In contrast, using an app to talk to a doctor takes away a physician’s ability to be fully hands-on. It puts the burden on patients to accurately and fully describe what’s wrong; if patients are unable to describe their predicament, it’s possible their care may be compromised.
3. Is the innovation simpler to use, more convenient, or more affordable than existing offerings?
Yes. Making an appointment to see a doctor, getting there, waiting, and going through the motions before even talking about a problem is cumbersome. 98point6 takes this inconvenient aspect out of play altogether. Given that more than 80% of Americans own a smartphone, 98point6 is extremely convenient. And since users can reach doctors via the app at any hour of the day, they’re able to access primary care when it works for them.
Personal membership is only $20 for the year, with individual consultations costing one dollar on top of that. This is less expensive than current out of pocket costs for an illness-based visit, which can range from $40 to $250.
It’s also more affordable for employers that historically wasted money on expensive, confusing, and ultimately ineffective primary care plans many of their employees haven’t used. By switching to 98point6, many employers are not only saving money, but also seeing an increase in employee productivity as employees actually use their benefits and stay healthier.
4. Does the offering have a technology that enables it to improve and move upmarket?
Yes. 98point6 already addresses the full scope of conditions normally treated within primary care, and it’s likely to expand. In speaking with the 98point6 team, they stated, “Our modality is well-suited for many aspects of behavioral health, specialty care and dermatology, and over time, we expect to expand our services as our patients and customer needs grow.”
To that end, the AI that 98point6 uses should help it address more medical issues over time as it collects increasing amounts of information on symptoms and learns from each user interaction.
5. Is the technology paired with an innovative business model that allows it to be sustainable?
Yes. 98point6 is inexpensive enough to attract and retain individual patients and employers, but structured in a way that it avoids losing money. The app-based model is simple and efficient from the back end, resulting in low overhead, and keeping the actual labor costs down as well.
6. Are existing providers motivated to ignore the new innovation and not feel threatened by it at the outset?
Yes. Even though licensed practitioners provide medical care through the 98point6’s app, traditional providers aren’t likely to feel threatened, finding that in-person longitudinal care is a different and more comprehensive service than digital primary care. To an extent they’re right not to feel threatened—traditional, in-person care will always exist, since certain aspects of primary care (like physicals) can only be done in person.
Based on the above questions, 98point6 has massive disruptive potential—even though in-person primary care will remain, the company is well positioned to take more low-end processes away from traditional providers. This opens the door for a lot of people to access care when they previously couldn’t, either for cost or time restraints. What will be interesting to see in the future is if this provides as much an alternative for overburdened physicians as it does patients. Will providers want to switch over to a fully digital practice? Could the future of primary care be strictly mobile? Maybe. But for now, 98point6 is definitely one to watch.