Innovators Worth Watching: One Medical

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Sep 12, 2019

Welcome to our “Innovators Worth Watching” series, spotlighting interesting and potentially disruptive players across a spectrum of industries.


What do patients really want from their healthcare? 

Over the past few years, more and more studies have asked this very question. Surveys show that consumers want convenience, speed, ease of use, and transparency—something America’s healthcare system isn’t exactly known for. 

Its failure to meet consumer demands creates an additional barrier for people to engage with our healthcare system, at a time when chronic diseases are at an all-time high. Add to that the challenge of patients not understanding the need for longitudinal primary care (which is important for prevention, improving overall health, and reducing health costs), and it’s no wonder why a growing percentage of the population, especially younger adults, choose not to see a doctor. Enter One Medical.

One Medical is a high-tech, membership-based primary care practice seeking to address what patients want out of their care: convenience and transparency. While appointments and services are still billed on a fee-for-service basis, its offerings go far beyond the basic. For a set yearly fee, members gain access to One Medical’s user-friendly site and app, which enables it to provide a wide range of online services geared toward making the entire primary care process—from booking to prescription refills—easy to use and convenient. Perhaps what makes One Medical most unique is that it’s inherently patient-focused; in-person appointments are not only much easier to book, but far longer than those offered by typical primary care providers; and 24/7 virtual care is available when members can’t make it in to an office.

Since its founding in 2006, One Medical has expanded to nine major cities, and works as the primary health provider for a number of companies. Is its model of convenient, tech-enhanced care one that can disrupt traditional primary care providers? 

We put One Medical to the test with our six-question framework to analyze disruptive potential.

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. One Medical attracts those who are put off by the complexity and frustration of the traditional healthcare system. By focusing on making care easy, transparent, and convenient for patients, One Medical is able to appeal to people who are nonconsumers of care—not because they do not have access, but because the system is too complex for them to be able to, or want to, use it.

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

Yes. Primary care has traditionally been offered as an extension of hospital care, one element in a larger system. The larger system competes based on the availability of specialty care, and primary care is a critical funnel into that system. 

When looking for a primary care provider, people look at not only how many services the provider offers, but the affiliation to a hospital they would choose for themselves. Hospitals are measured on their service offerings, as well as the technological advancement of those services. Based on that, One Medical is not as good—not only do they not have a definitive hospital affiliation, they do not have the same scale of services that hospitals do.

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

Yes. For many patients with health insurance, affordability of care is not what bars usage, but rather the lack of convenience and simplicity. By offering a wide range of services under one roof, One Medical is a simple, one-stop shop for many healthcare needs. Unless patients are particular about their location and care needs, appointments can typically be made are either same day or the next day, making care fast and accessible. Patients can also message their providers at One Medical whenever they need to, putting care directly into their hands. While it may not be more affordable, One Medical is competing on ease and convenience.

4. Does the offering have a technology that enables it to improve and move upmarket?

Yes. In the short term, One Medical’s path to moving upmarket—or growing beyond its niche—will likely involve continuing to expand to other cities. Long term, there are a number of ways it could do so, such as offering more specialty services, or broadening into new payment models. Regardless of how it chooses to move upmarket, it has a technology to support its growth: One Medical’s proprietary tech platform, facilitated by 1Life Medical.

1LifeMedical allows for a wide range of services to be accessed through a mobile app. The app offers services ranging from 24/7 virtual doctor’s visits and the ability to message your provider, prescription renewal, and online appointment booking.

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

Yes. One Medical’s single annual fee, which covers unlimited access to the One Medical app and all online services, should continue to appeal to patients’ desire for price transparency and a more convenient type of healthcare. Further, by charging an annual fee, One Medical is able to profitably provide its members with longer appointments, and pay staff to work outside of typical business hours. 

One Medical also partners with companies to offer its services as a medical benefit. With employers seeing a decline in their healthcare costs as a result of partnering with One Medical, it should have no problem establishing more partnerships as it seeks to scale beyond personal primary care. 

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

Maybe. Healthcare is a volume based-business, with primary care providers operating at 100% capacity. For traditional providers to offer a comparable patient experience as One Medical, they would need to significantly reduce the volume of patients they see in order to spend more time with them and offer care outside of business hours, cutting into their profits. Existing providers aren’t likely to completely reinvent their payment model when the existing model is already working for them. However, as One Medical attracts more patients, existing providers may take a second look at their model and consider testing it out themselves.  

One Medical has already carved out a niche for itself by making care simpler and more convenient for consumers, which is exactly what consumers want. If it successfully scales, One Medical will be in a prime position to be a disruptive force in the healthcare industry.  

A key facet of disruption is expanding access to a product or service—in this case, primary care. Generally, affordability is a part of determining accessibility, and the question remains whether membership models like One Medical can make care more affordable for the broader public. But as the primary-care practice has shown, it’s also possible to increase access by making something more attractive, in this case by taking much of the complication of primary care out of the equation. 

One Medical just might be the key to get millennials like me to re-engage with our healthcare system.

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.