There are certain rules that I should follow.
A big one is never to buy anything after seeing an ad for it after midnight on Facebook. That’s especially true if it’s a crowdfunding project. I mostly kicked that crowdfunding habit. I’d still do better to stay off Facebook before I go to sleep.
I first encountered Forward, the new tech-centric medical practice, via a Facebook ad. I didn’t sign up right away, showing some self-restraint.
I did consider it though. I watched the 10-minute tour video, maybe more than once. I exchanged a few emails with their customer service rep. He offered me six months for the price of five with no further commitment. The hook was baited.
I hadn’t had a checkup in way too long, and I’m fascinated by approaches to the future of healthcare. Maybe I could be more proactive with improving my own health. I went for it.
I booked a visit for one of the two New York City offices; one is walking distance from home, so the convenience helped.
Once I signed up, I should have been concerned that the first appointments available were several weeks away. I should have been even more concerned that when I wanted to adjust the time of the appointment a week or two before, there were no other available times that month.
The site that advertises “unlimited doctor visits.” While writing this, I double-checked this claim with the customer service representative using their website chat app. I asked how often one can see doctors, and the rep said, “As often as you like. Your membership includes unlimited visits,” and then he added doctors are available “M-F from 8-6.” My response was, “LOL” (yes, I wrote that in the chat window). None of this is true. It’s like the old joke that a store is open 24 hours – just not in a row.
The rep further claimed, “The first 75 min baseline is the only visit that is difficult to schedule because it is so long.” But that isn’t true. The second visit was just as hard to schedule as the first.
Actually, the second was much harder. They wanted to double-check a result that came up in the initial bloodwork (fortunately, everything was fine) and that could be done with a nurse, but they also wanted the doctor to review any takeaways from my DNA screening via a 23andMe kit. I asked them if both appointments could be scheduled back-to-back, and they told me over chat within the Forward iPhone app and via a separate email exchange that this would be done easily, and that they would take care of it.
Instead, they just booked the nurse visit, and the times available with the doctor were another month away (I already had my 23andMe data, so I didn’t have to wait extra for that; that could have added one to two months).
After not understanding why this was frustrating, the customer service reps then said doctors really are available on shorter notice but they only show certain times as a way to make it easier for people to book last-minute appointments when needed. This is some of the most tortured logic I ever heard, and the rep on Forward’s site repeated this line of reasoning to me. All of this was after they said they would just schedule the appointments together for me anyway.
I told them that the bar that they had to leap over was the one Zocdoc set. I’ve used Zocdoc often and overall love it. I find doctors and dentists that meet certain criteria, book appointments, and usually take care of my paperwork through the app too. It gives me a ton of information and saves me a ton of time.
Forward, instead, seems to want you to take longer to schedule the appointment than the appointment itself takes. It’s keeping most of the appointment times secret to serve you better. “Making ourselves artificially scarce to provide you better access” is about as terrible a slogan as I’ve heard, but it would be a much more honest slogan than “unlimited doctor visits.”
So, what about the visit itself? The facilities? The care? The rest?
The facilities are clean and modern. The body scanner is kind of cool the first time, even if it has some quirks. For instance, you use it fully clothed in an area that’s visible to anyone passing by on the street, so it’s not going to give an accurate weight measurement, and it doesn’t feel private when you do this by a street-level storefront window. I’m sure Forward will disagree with the following statement for all kinds of reasons, but from my layman’s point of view, the scanner doesn’t seem to do that much more than the readout you get from a treadmill at a half-decent gym.
The highlight of my experience was the nursing staff. They were terrific, helpful, and accommodating. I’ve met similarly wonderful nurses at other facilities that weren’t claiming to modernize the healthcare system, but at least this is an area where Forward seems to hire well.
As for the doctor consultation, it’s a mixed bag. The doctor overall was terrific. There was one odd recommendation for some kind of holistic remedy that seemed to be roundly debunked online, but there was plenty of good, useful, practical advice, including a few tips to try certain inexpensive, over-the-counter products. Where there were a few results that merited some further investigation, the doctor knew exactly what to look for and was very patient in explaining everything.
On the second visit, I found the genetic screening less helpful, not to any fault of the doctor’s but due to the general approach. If you have reviewed any health screenings from a site like 23andMe, you’ll appreciate that almost all results show a high degree of uncertainty, and the recommendations wind up being some version of “exercise more, eat healthier foods, and get screened when you’re supposed to.” Perhaps the results are more useful for some with a dire warning sign on a genetic marker, and it’s a net positive that the doctor can explain the results to you.
The biggest downside to the doctor’s visit for me was one of those features that felt like a bug. While the doctor was talking, notes based on my responses and the doctor’s recommendations would populate the appropriate fields in this wall-length screen that served as a real-time medical chart. I had to ask if this was all done automatically somehow, and the doctor noted that there was someone listening in who was transcribing this.
There are some benefits to the approach, as it frees up the doctor to have a free-flowing conversation with the patient and ensure that any follow-up needs are recorded. The transcribed conversation is still very strange. I don’t know anything about this person or if they even have any medical training, and yet they are listening to everything (if not watching). Perhaps in a decade, this will be the new normal, but in many ways, I hope it won’t be. Also, there was something I asked about during my second visit that wasn’t addressed afterward and should have been, so even with the doctor and the mysterious note-taker, the system doesn’t work as promised.
The rep on Forward’s site told me, “We have medical scribes live transcribing the notes so that our doctors can have a 1:1 conversation with you.” The conversation is 1:1, but there’s another person whose presence is felt, and it must be particularly hard for some people to have sensitive and open conversations with a physician when it’s unclear who else is listening.
There is one area where I have to give Forward credit: they were very quick to accommodate my wish to cancel my account. The app stopped working in seconds. You might even think they were dying to get rid of me. Forward and I are both better off.
As for my online friend who was so helpful clarifying a few things via chat, I told him at the end of the conversation (again, I’m not making this up) after he asked if I want to get started, “You’ve been great, and this is to no fault of your own, but as they say where I’m from, you can’t put some petals on a cactus and call it a rose.”
I’m from Mamaroneck, a suburb 30 minutes north of New York City. No one ever says anything remotely like that where I’m from. I wish they did though.
I wish Forward worked too. If I had nearly unlimited discretionary income, and if it was at least as easy to use as Zocdoc, I’d probably stick with it.
Meanwhile, I learned that I really need to stop buying things I see advertised on Facebook.
Except Allbirds. I first learned about those through a Facebook ad and now have eight pairs in different colors.
And the Lego Minifigures Groupon. That’s why I have Chicken Man, Shark Man, and Batman on the Lego Death Star (too many men – I know). What a great purchase.
But if the ad is telling me it’s going to revolutionize healthcare, law, government, education, belt buckle storage, or Jelly Belly delivery, I am going to ignore it.
PS: For those who weren’t as obsessed with “30 Rock,” this newsletter headline is taken from the title of the episode where Jack takes Liz to a corporate retreat. It’s one of my favorite titles of anything ever. Bonus points to anyone who got the reference.
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