Innovators Worth Watching: K Health

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Apr 7, 2022

Our “Innovators Worth Watching” series spotlights interesting and potentially disruptive players across a spectrum of industries.

Over the past few years, numerous health care experts have questioned the longevity of telehealth. Despite uncertainties around its staying power, numerous telehealth providers launched, and others grew, amidst COVID-19. Virtual primary care and mental health offerings, in particular, gained significant traction during this time.

One such telehealth provider is K Health. Going beyond the point-solution approach many digital health companies have taken, K Health offers virtual appointments and 24/7 chat features for primary care, mental health care, urgent care, and pediatric care through their website and app, covering a wide range of medical concerns from headaches to the flu to depression and anxiety. Their hallmark is an AI-powered symptom tracker, which has learned from thousands of anonymized medical records to understand a patient’s symptoms and offer the most likely diagnoses. 

Is K Health’s model potentially disruptive in our current telehealth-driven world? We put its business model to our test to find out.

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. The AI-powered symptom tracker targets patients who are experiencing a potential medical concern, but do not feel the need to see a doctor – at least not yet. These patients are overserved by traditional, in-person medical care. 

Both the symptom tracker and the ability to chat with a doctor also target patients who may struggle to access a doctor in person and therefore would not consume traditional care. By offering services from primary care to urgent care to mental health care, K Health addresses a wide range of needs. Users may be nonconsumers of traditional medical care in these areas for a number of reasons, including price, lack of access, or simply fear of going to the doctor.

2. Is the offering not as good as existing offerings as judged by historical measures of performance?

Yes. Symptom trackers are perceived as “not as good.” They’ve historically been considered unreliable and inaccurate. A recent study found that the average accuracy of symptom checkers was just 37%, compared to an average of 71.4% for providers.

As mentioned in previous blogs on telehealth platforms, virtual appointments are considered “not as good” as seeing a care provider in person. When in-person, a provider can physically examine and check symptoms, whereas virtual appointments rely on pictures or verbal descriptions of symptoms. This is less relevant for mental health concerns, but some physical ailments are better served with an in-person provider interaction.

3. Is the innovation simpler to use, more convenient, or more affordable than existing offerings?

Yes. First, it is more affordable. The symptom tracker is free to use for anyone. Users can also book appointments with a doctor through K Health—$29 per appointment, or $19/month for unlimited appointments. The average urgent care copay ranges from $150-$200. This means that a single urgent care appointment costs almost as much as eight months of a K Health subscription. 

Second, it is more convenient. Parts of K Health are available 24/7, such as the tracker and the doctor chat feature. Additionally, virtual appointments are more convenient as they eliminate the need to travel to find a doctor, saving the consumer the time involved in both travel and waiting to be seen. 

4. Does the offering have a technology that enables it to improve and capture a larger market over time?

Yes. K Health’s AI learns from every patient interaction it has, allowing it to gain more information about combinations of symptoms and likely diagnoses and treatments. As the AI gains more information, it can be used to expand the scope of issues it can diagnose and treatments it can suggest. 

For example, as the AI learns more about a wide range of medical conditions, it could use its knowledge to further diagnose more complex concerns beyond primary or urgent care. In regards to chronic conditions such as heart disease or diabetes, the AI could potentially suggest longer-term care plans.

5. Is the technology paired with an innovative business model that allows it to be sustainable?

Yes. K Health forgoes insurance and charges users a flat fee per visit or per month, regardless of how their service is used. According to their website, “this lowers the amount of people involved, in turn lowering the costs associated with billing, calculating, and negotiating prices.”

The use of AI is highly cost-efficient. Once the AI is built, the marginal cost to deliver the service continues to fall with each additional service provided. Using AI to drive a core part of their platform allows K Health to make service delivery more cost-efficient as opposed to traditional care. 

6. Are existing providers motivated to ignore the new innovation and not feel threatened by it at the outset?

Yes. Due to their perceived unreliability, incumbent providers would typically ignore the advice of a symptom tracker in favor of provider expertise. Providers also prefer to see their patients in person over seeing them virtually. So while patients may prefer to use a virtual platform, providers will likely ignore its potential as a threat at the outset.

Given this assessment, K Health has a potential disruptive edge when compared to traditional in-person care providers. K Health is not alone in its disruptive potential. The market is saturated with dozens of telehealth providers, with some also offering AI-powered services (see 98point6’s AI assistant for another example). So while K Health poses a potentially disruptive threat to traditional, in-person care, there is still an open question as to whether it will continue to stand out in a new, telehealth-filled world.

Jessica is a research associate at the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, where she focuses on business model innovation in healthcare, including new approaches to population health management and person-centered care delivery.