- I tested different ways to get healthcare from startups promising to make getting healthcare an easier experience, and possibly more affordable.
- For my routine healthcare visits, I tried out both virtual and in-person services from SmileDirectClub, Curology for skin, Tia for women’s health, Warby Parker for eyeglasses, Simple Contacts, and One Medical for my primary care.
- Here’s what each one was like to use, how long each visit took, how much it cost, and whether I’d use it again.
- This article is part of Business Insider’s coverage of the future of healthcare. You can read all our articles here.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
When it comes to health, I’ve been pretty lucky.
I live in one of the most healthcare-centric cities in the world. I can’t go very far without running into a hospital or urgent-care center. In New York, a doctor is never more than a walk or a short train ride away.
Even so, finding the right place to go has been my biggest challenge since moving from the Chicago area out East four years ago. For the first time in my life, I’ve had to navigate where to find a primary-care doctor, where to go to the dentist, things that had been taken care of so simply through existing appointments scheduled on a yearly or twice-yearly basis throughout my childhood and young-adult years.
In my role at Business Insider, I’ve been tracking a new crop of companies that have reached sky-high valuations or generated a lot of buzz, all with the aim to change the way Americans get healthcare. It ranges from companies like One Medical, the primary-care company that’s been around for more than a decade, to newer entrants like Tia or Simple Contacts.
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The goal many seem to be getting at is making healthcare a more consumer-friendly experience, elevating it to the experience you’d get shopping on Amazon or when buying beauty products.
So I decided to put the startups to the test. A little about me: I’m 26 and I’m pretty healthy. I have a high deductible health plan with a $US2,000 deductible as well as a health savings account. I’m on the hook for covering the full cost of any non-preventive visit until I hit that deductible.
With that in mind, I picked health services that best complemented the care I’d already been seeking out or meaning to get. That is, I didn’t add vitamins to my regimen because I don’t take them now, but I did add a dermatology visit because I’d been meaning to go.
What surprised me most about using the digital startups was how much paper I still had to fill out and how many phone calls I still ended up making. There were fewer visits with medical doctors, and a bigger lack of follow-up than I would have expected.
On the upside, virtual visits saved me a lot of time and required far fewer passwords than I imagined. For in-person visits, I spent almost no time in waiting rooms before I was taken away to my appointments.
Read on for more about each of the startups I tried:
I got my glasses prescription renewed online with Warby Parker
Over the past few years, Warby Parker has started offering more and more eye-exam services, including in-store visits and virtual prescription checks.
To take the test, I used my phone as a remote and placed my computer screen a few feet in front of me and followed the prompts via swipes on my iPhone’s screen. The test informed me that this wasn’t meant to replace a comprehensive eye-health exam. A day later, I had my prescription.
Time: My exam took about 15 minutes. Factoring in in-person trying on and fitting, I likely spent about an hour on getting my new frames.
Price: The test costs $US40, if you’re given a prescription. That’s higher than my $US10 eye-exam copay if I had chosen to go in-person to renew my prescription.
Pros: I was able to get new glasses, which I went on to find out were covered by insurance while talking to a Warby Parker representative on the phone to place my order.
Cons: It was a more expensive option than if I had gone in for a comprehensive eye exam, which would have included more tests of my eye health.
The verdict: With the knowledge of what my vision plan would cover for an in-person eye visit, I’ll likely do that next time just to be sure my eyes are still as healthy as they seem to be.
I updated my skin-care routine with Curology
I’d been meaning to get my skin more under control for a while, so I figured I’d test out Curology, a company that prescribes personalised acne treatments online. The process was pretty simple, once I got to Curology’s website. I started the free trial, shared my history with acne products and other prescriptions/health conditions I might have.
I mentioned my concerns about using certain acne treatments given my past experience, sent in some photos, and off the assessment went to a medical professional who would review and prescribe me a course of action.
A few days later, my solution arrived in the mail along with moisturizer and cleanser. The medical provider who reviewed my case also gave me over-the-counter options for cleansers and a moisturizer with sunscreen, something I’d been meaning to add to my routine.
Time: 10 minutes to do the exam; I got my prescription the next day.
Price: $US5 for the initial one-month free trial bottle, $US40 for a two-month supply of the solution after that.
Pros: It’s nice to have a plan, and it’s nice to have a chance to follow up via Curology’s website to share how I’m progressing.
Cons: My skin seems worse than it did before. I’m guessing I’m just in the throes of getting started on a new plan, and I’ve been able to check in periodically with my medical professional about it, something I might’ve had a harder time doing in a traditional dermatology practice.
The verdict: In dermatology, it seems that virtual, direct-to-consumer approaches have the advantage. I avoided the much higher cost of an office visit, and it didn’t take more than a few minutes to get me started on a care plan that I’d been neglecting.
I visited Tia’s first clinic for my annual well-woman exam
When I heard that women’s health startup Tia was opening a New York clinic, which takes insurance and comes with a $US150 annual fee, I figured I should give it a try.
After signing in through a tablet at the front office, I was led to an exam room where providers asked me about my medical history and what had brought me in today. The providers cast the notes onto a screen in the room, which was a fun way to visualise my health. I could also look over their shoulders to see their screens.
Time: From start to finish, I was at the clinic for about an hour.
Price: $US150 annual fee, with insurance covering the underlying visits. The fee goes toward services like the messaging and booking platform, programming at Tia, and access to group wellness events.
Pros: I never had to wait once I stepped foot into the clinic. The care team listened to my concerns and offered up solutions, but didn’t pressure me into any one course of action.
Cons: Demand for Tia’s services were more than the founders anticipated, so getting an appointment as a new member isn’t quite as easy as it will ideally be one day (for the purposes of the review, I had some help in booking). I also had a hard time figuring out how to follow up with the healthcare provider who had done my exam, which will ideally be fixed when Tia’s care team messaging platform launches in a few weeks.
The verdict: I’ll be excited when it’s all up and running, it certainly was among the better gynecology appointments I’ve been to. I’m excited to attend some of the events, which are included in the yearly membership fee.
I renewed my contact prescription through Simple Contacts
Simple Contacts, a startup that sells contact lenses online, also offers a contact-lens-prescription check. I decided to try it out to renew my prescription.
After plugging in my old expired prescription from my eye doctor, I got started with the exam. It asked me questions about my health, how I was seeing, and whether I’d had headaches. I was asked to set up a few feet from my phone and turn on my microphone and camera, which I’d use to read off letters as part of the exam.
My contacts arrived about a week later.
Time: About 15 minutes, much of which was spent setting up the screen a few feet from me. My prescription arrived the next day.
Price: The exam costs $US20, much less than what I might pay for a contact lens fitting at the eye doctor. My health plan doesn’t cover the cost of a fitting. A year’s supply of my contacts cost $US776, less than what I had paid for a year’s supply in 2017.
Pros: It was simple and less expensive than a traditional contact-lens fitting. The price of my contacts themselves ended up being less as well.
Cons: Like with Warby Parker, the only drawback would be that I should still go in person to check in on my eye health, something the online system doesn’t cover.
The verdict: I should probably still go in for an eye exam, but this was nice as a way to stretch out my older visit. I know it’s a pain and expensive to go in person, but it’s probably worth it to be super sure I have the right set of contacts in.
I popped into One Medical for a quick check-in
Thinking of my own healthcare needs, I decided that One Medical, which charges an annual fee and offers same- or next-day appointments with doctors or other healthcare professionals that users can book online, would be my best bet for primary care over a model that charges a monthly rate.
I don’t go to the doctor often, but after feeling some pain in my knee, I booked a 20-minute visit online after signing up as a member. I went in a few days later for an appointment.
Time: I spent about 40 minutes at the office.
The price: $US199 annual fee, plus however much my insurer charges for in-person visits until I hit my deductible.
Pros: It was simple to book online, the views at the office were stunning, my provider was helpful, and it was easy to follow up with her via One Medical’s messaging platform.
Cons: I didn’t have the smoothest time booking an appointment after clicking some wrong buttons and almost having to reschedule for a different time slot. I was also a little bummed that I couldn’t book an appointment with a doctor at the office that was most convenient for me.
The verdict: To be determined. I’m anxious to see how big my bill will be for the check-in visit.
Going forward, I’m interested to test out some of the more virtual features to see if I can avoid getting hit with a big office-visit bill, given the high deductible health plan I’m on.
I got my teeth cleaned at DNTL, a ‘walk-in dental bar’
When I first heard about DNTL, which calls itself a “walk-in dental bar,” I was curious what might be in store with a visit. To me, it sounded like a blow bar or nail bar – as if cleaning your teeth was as simple as getting your hair styled or a manicure. I booked an appointment online for the following week, though there were times available as early as the same day I was booking.
Time: I spent about 50 minutes at the office.
Price: My cleaning was covered under my dental plan.
Pros: It was certainly one of the most comfortable dental visits I’ve done. The dental chair had a massage feature. I watched TV during the visit. I never had to wait. There was a blanket I could drape over myself during the cleaning. I was given a hot towelette for my hands and face when it was all done.
Cons: Technology wise, there didn’t seem to be too much that distinguishes it from a traditional dental practice.
The verdict: I think I might stick with it, especially since it’s the same price.
I worked toward a whiter smile with SmileDirectClub
Teeth-straightening was one of the first services to be provided by virtual healthcare companies. And SmileDirectClub is one of the industry’s pioneers. The company is valued at $US3.2 billion after an infusion of $US380 million in 2018, and is reportedly planning to go public.
My teeth were straightened out through two rounds of braces in middle school and high school, so I couldn’t test out that aspect of the service. Instead, I tested out what it was like to use the service by buying a whitening kit, which includes pens and an LED-light mouthpiece meant to accelerate the process.
Time: I’m supposed to spend 20 minutes a day with whitener on my teeth for a week, half of the time using the LED device. (In reality, I’ve committed about 10 minutes a day).
Price: With shipping, $US86 for a year’s supply of pens and the LED mouthpiece.
Pros: The whitening solution that comes in the pens is the same material as I might find in the doctor’s office, and other whitening systems applied at the office also use LED lights for longer periods of time. The LED light plugs into my phone. I called my typical dentists office and they told me a whitening would cost $US350, so this was much cheaper. It was easy to apply the solution and slip on the mouthpiece.
Cons: It sounds like this is not a research-backed way to get whiter teeth. Studies have shown the light is not that useful in whitening teeth over simply using the solution.
The verdict: While it was fun to test out the process and use the LED mouthpiece, I likely won’t pay for it again, especially now that I know the LED bit might not be helping.
Side by side, here’s how much the new startups cost when compared to the traditional services they’re meant to disrupt.
I managed to get all my major appointments done in two weeks, and that’s exciting. Some took just a few minutes, while others, like my visit at Tia took an hour, or my trip to One Medical, which took 40 minutes.
With the exception of DNTL, all the virtual or disruptive services came with a price tag, most of which were higher than if I’d just gone through my traditional doctor. The exceptions were Simple Contacts, which turned out to be cheaper, and Curology.
What’s cool is that it seems as if these newer entrants are setting a higher bar, especially in a competitive market like New York.
There’s still a lot to be worked out. I’d love to see more follow-ups. (And I’m not talking about surveys that each place inevitably asked me to fill out about my experience.)
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