A look at a lobby inside a Forward primary care office
A look at a lobby inside the Forward primary care office in San Francisco. (Forward)

Forward is a winner of FierceHealthcare's Fierce 15 awards. See our other honorees here

Forward’s offices aren't designed to feel like your typical doctor’s office.

For starters: they don’t call the people who seek healthcare there patients. Instead, they're members. 

It’s a whole different ballgame from your usual primary care practice. Forward is an artificial intelligence healthcare system it says is combining world-class private doctors with new technology to create proactive, data-driven primary care.

Photo of Adrian Aoun
Adrian Aoun (Forward)

The venture-backed company has dubbed itself the primary care of the future and hopes to redefine the healthcare experience. Along with its original office in San Francisco, it has opened three locations around Los Angeles, two in Manhattan and a Washington, D.C., practice that opened in July. It will open a location in San Diego, and four or five other as-yet-unspecified locations are in the works, both in existing states and in new places, said Adrian Aoun, Forward’s CEO.

“Our goal, our mission is to get healthcare to as many people as possible,” he said.

Forward uses a direct primary care model. Instead of billing insurance companies, it charges members a $149-a-month fee, the same way a person might pay for a gym membership. The fee is higher than with many other direct primary care models. However, everything, including lab tests, body scans, time with doctors and the first fill of a prescription if it can be dispensed at Forward, is covered by that fee.

“At Forward, we try and make it really simple for folks, because when you hit people with hidden fees all you do is scare them away from wanting to go to the doctor,” said Aoun, who ran special projects for Google before he helped found Forward with Ilya Abyzov, a former Uber executive, and Robert Sebastian, who also worked at Google. “Anything we can do to lower costs will increase access and get healthcare out to the masses. That’s what we are trying to do. We want everyone on the planet to have access to great, great healthcare that the few have. We can do that by continuing to use technology which will allow us to lower our costs over time.”

The company was launched in 2017 with $30 million in funding from a who's who of investors including Google Chairman Eric Schmidt, Salesforce founder Marc Benioff, Oscar founder Joshua Kushner and Uber co-founder Garrett Camp.

Forward offers members standard medical services along with genetic screening tests, body scanners, wearable sensors, artificial intelligence software and a self-developed electronic medical record system.

Fierce insights from Adrian Aoun, CEO and founder of Forward

What is your best piece of advice for launching a healthcare company that challenges the status quo?

One of the most interesting ones is that in the world of technology, they always say "move fast and break things." In the world of healthcare, those things are human and you don’t want to break humans. So in healthcare, one of the things is to actually be a little more measured and focus a little more on the marathon than the sprint. There’s this great line from Bill Gates a while back which is that most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in 10. At Forward, we didn’t start for the one year, we started for the 10 years. We’re here to say what is the large change we can bring about and we’re very patient, we’re willing to work on it for decades to get there.

What is the failure you’ve learned the best lesson from?

When you think of companies, especially in the healthcare space, the biggest insight that's different is that at the end of the day these are people businesses. These could be your members, your doctors, your nurses, your care coordinators. One of the things that is most important in these sorts of businesses is really to focus on other people. Who are the people you bring? How do you communicate with them? How do you get to know them and how do you carry them along in your journey? That matters, I would argue, almost more than anything else. Because if you get the right people and you point them in the right direction, they’ll most often do the right thing. I would absolutely say it was something we had to learn. Today, our engineers work hand-in-hand with our doctors, and it’s a pretty magical sight and something you don’t see very often in the world of technology or in healthcare.

What is one change you predict in healthcare that people wouldn’t expect?

Today, healthcare is roughly 15% to 17% of our GDP [gross domestic product] and it’s only going up. I think we’re going to wake up in 50 years and healthcare is going to be virtually free. It’s going to be one of the most affordable, accessible things. I think technology is really going to be able to bring that to bear. The more that we shift healthcare from being labor to technology, from service to product, the more we can drive that cost down. I think modern healthcare will be ubiquitous and equitable for all, which is something I’m obviously really excited about. Also, today in the world of healthcare, the primary care doctors make the least amount of money and the surgeons make the most. That’s particularly an artifact of a fee-for-service billing system, where surgery costs a lot, so we can pay a lot. But in the shift to value-based medicine, the shift to prevention and the shift to actually keeping people healthy, what you’re going to find is that the primary care doctors become kind of the kings. They become the ones who end up making the most and the surgeons make the least. That’s at least the world I hope we get to.