Adrian Aoun is the CEO of Forward, a preventive healthcare company which he co-founded with former employees of Google and Uber.
Aoun is also the founder and former CEO of Wavii, which he sold to Google for $30 Million, and a prolific angel investor with dozens of successful bets including Pinterest and ClassPass.
We talked to him about Forward’s business model and mission to reveal and dismantle the absurdity of America’s healthcare system. Watch the Video
Listen to the Podcast
Changing an Entire Industry from the Ground Up
Founded on the premise that 40% of deaths from leading causes are preventable, Forward offers its members personalized and preventive healthcare.
“Most people who try to improve the healthcare world take a widget approach,” Aoun explains. “They make their widget, send it to the pre-existing world of healthcare, and hope that the whole industry will change overnight. We were a little skeptical about that. We thought, what if we changed the entire healthcare industry from the ground up?”
“We are the whole experience.”
Forward started from zero and built their own doctor’s offices, hardware, labs, and treatment systems. Now, they have centers in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, DC, and more cities across the country.
“Normally, going to the doctor is a reactive process. You tell the doctor you have a rash and he treats it. But you know rashes are not what’s killing people, right? It's heart disease, cancer, blood pressure.”
Aoun explains how Forward takes the time to look at a sign to understand the patient’s health at large. They do this by using a few different technologies.
As a patient visiting a Forward facility, you start by walking into a body scanner developed by Forward which scans your temperature, heart rate, etc in just a few seconds.
Then, they draw a blood sample and examine your DNA using their on-site lab and fast hardware.
Finally, they channel these biometrics into the big touch screen in the exam room. The screen has a model of your body and all the information gathered so far. The Forward Smart Screen automatically scribes the conversation, encouraging a more engaged conversation between doctor and member.
Forward then sends you home with a treatment plan and monitors your progress via an app on your smart-phone.
One Price for Everyone, Including All Services: $149 per Month, Zero Deductible
Forward’s one-price-for-all of $149-a-month includes access to all of their services. Aoun says there are no hidden fees or co-pay unlike traditional health insurance options.
Some of Forward members are unemployed or gig-economy workers who don’t have any traditional health insurance, but with their Forward membership, they have access to a variety of health services such as dermatology or mental health.
“Today, healthcare is predominantly a labor-based business,” Aoun says. Forward automates as much as they can to lower the labor costs and offer their services at such a low cost.
“Our goal is to rebuild the whole healthcare system over time.”
The services they offer are still limited. If a patient needs surgery, they are referred to outside providers. Aoun hopes to offer Forward members every service one day, even surgery.
Forward monitors what services they refer their patients to the most and prioritize these services when they have the means to expand. Most recently, they’ve added dermatology, cardiology, and mental health to their service portfolio.
When we ask him who their target customers are, Aoun says, “Who isn’t our target audience? Show me a person who isn’t going to die and I will tell you that person isn’t. We all need healthcare.”
In 48 months, Forward went from non-existence to becoming a national healthcare system with offices in nine different locations. They are also favorably reviewed with an average rating of 4.7/5 stars (compared to 3.6 for the average doctors office).
A Thought Experiment: What If You Were in Charge of Your Own Health for a Change?
Aoun recently wrote an opinion piece arguing that the American healthcare system is broken because providers are not directly accountable to their users.
Today, most people get their health insurance through their employers. There is no pressure on the provider to be better because consumer satisfaction isn’t an important factor for their success.
But what if we gave every American at least five thousand dollars per year to spend on their health? Aoun invites us to think about how this could change the industry.
“Imagine telling your kids what a doctor’s office was like one day,” Aoun says.
- Well, son, I walked into the doctor’s office -this person in a white coat. I told them what was wrong with me and they sat there, divined my condition, and told me what was wrong.
- Oh, you went to a fortune-teller!
- No, no, no! They weren’t fortune tellers, we called them doctors.
“Basically, doctors are the fortune-tellers of our time,” Aoun says.
He invites us to imagine a mechanic who tells us we need a new carburetor just by looking at it from a distance. Wouldn’t we want to see what the computer says about that? “You wouldn’t go to a software engineer and ask him to build you a website but not hand him a laptop,” he adds. “For some reason, it is okay to ask a doctor to save our lives by handing them a stethoscope, which is literally a hollow tube invented in 1860!”
“Healthcare institutions have no incentive to improve because they are getting paid no matter what,” he says. “I want to put the power back in your hands”
Why Your Employer Can’t Be in Charge of Your Healthcare
When your employer is in charge of your healthcare, and the average time you will spend with one employer is about two years, your healthcare plan will be tailored to suit your employer’s needs more than your own. Your employer will ask you to get a flu shot, but they won’t be concerned with your heart’s health in the long run.
Another important point Aoun brings up is privacy. “The same way I don’t want my employer to find where I live, what I eat for dinner, who I date, I don’t want my employer to find out private information about my health,” he says. “There is nothing more personal than our health.”
Can Technology Solve Every Problem?
There’s a book called Geek Heresy that says technologists and Silicon Valley types often naively think that they can solve every problem with technology i.e. if your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail!
Aoun doesn’t claim that it can, but he believes it can help us support each other. “This is the game of humanity,” he says. “The more we grow in population, the more technology we need to support each other.”
Forward doesn’t identify as a technology company, but neither do they identify as a healthcare company. “We don’t focus on the industry,” Aoun says. “We focus on one person and one person only, and that is the person we are serving.”
“The second we start focusing on technology, we become dogmatic,” Aoun says. “So we focus on doing what is right by the people.”
Currently, Forward has about five hundred employees, several hundreds of whom are clinicians. But they also have the operation, production, and marketing specialists. What they all have in common is their dedication to building consumer-based healthcare services and products. If Forward Succeeds Wildy at Reducing the 40% of Deaths that are Preventable, Would We Have Overpopulation and a Malthusian Catastrophe?
Image credit: study.com
Hear Aoun’s answer on the video or by listening to the podcast.
“Being a Category of One Can Be Terrifying”
Being the first and only one doing what they do has been the biggest challenge and opportunity for Forward. “We have no frame of reference,” Aoun says.
People already spend a lot of money on smoothies and organic food because they want to live longer. But according to Aoun, deep down everybody knows that a smoothie is not going to save their lives, so Forward shows these consumers an actual way they can improve their lives.
There are a lot of companies who do similar things to one aspect of what Forward does, but none of them does all of it. Some only have the hardware, some of them only offer the software.
“Healthcare is a messy service and business,” Aoun says. “Until you’re willing to get your hands dirty and build the whole healthcare system, you aren’t going to tackle this problem. You’re only going to stand around its edges.”
Two CEO’s from the E-Commerce Age Adrian Aoun Admires the Most
Larry Page, Co-founder of Google
Having worked for Page at Google as Director of Special Projects, Aoun learned that “Larry Page thinks on a very large scale. Why don’t we drive a car down every single street on the planet to map out the planet, why don’t we lay fiber to connect every single place, why don’t we put balloons in the sky to cover every single… The list goes on. You quickly realize the scale at which he thinks is incredibly impressive.”
Patrick O. Brown, Chief Executive of Impossible Foods
“Impossible Foods tries to solve the problem of global warming with lab-grown meat that comes from plants. Pat Brown doesn’t try to fight natural human inclination. He tells us, I’m going to meet you where you are. I’m going to give you something that tastes like meat, not ask you to become a vegetarian overnight.” Aoun got to know Brown when he tried to acquire Impossible Foods for Google.
Aoun’s One Piece of Advice to E-Commerce Entrepreneurs
“The problem is always more important than the solution. Don’t attach yourself to the idea. Attach yourself to the problem. Problems tend not to change, solutions tend to change.”
Aoun believes that If you attach yourself to solutions you become dogmatic. Your ideas and solutions can always turn out to be wrong, but if you aren’t attached to them, you can simply keep working on a new solution without having to give up on an idea completely.
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