This San Francisco-Based Medical Startup Wants to Change the Way DC Uses Primary Care

Forward opened its first DC location near City Center this week.

All photos courtesy of Forward.

Goodbye, urgent care waiting rooms. Goodbye, sticky vinyl seating, outdated magazines, and that one guy who’s always hacking up phlegm next to you. Forward is here, and it wants to do away with all the old doctor’s office tropes.

The startup aims to revolutionize the primary care experience by combining technology and medicine, and it opened its first DC location this week across from City Center.

“The traditional health system is broken,” says Nate Favini, chief medical officer for Forward, which was started in 2016 by former Google and Uber staffers. “It’s all about sick care and reactive care, and it’s not about prevention and being proactive.”

Forward flips that by making the experience a collaborative one between the doctor and patient. It’s a flat fee of $149 and is independent of insurance, so that means no copays. This includes unlimited visits, so rather than waiting until you’re sick to go to the doctor (which, come on, we all do), you can come in as often as you’d like to consult with your doctor on a health plan and work together on things like nutrition and chronic issues.

Which you’ll probably want to do: the entire experience is pretty luxuriously futuristic, as is fitting of a San Francisco-based startup. In the entrance (notice it’s not called a waiting room), Kygo plays over wireless speakers in the background, pale wood and mid-century furniture float throughout, and a fleet of iPads serve as patient check-in. (It’s all very Minute Clinic-meets-Apple Store.)

The Forward body scanner.

A Forward visit begins by stepping into a custom body scanner, which rotates you around for a bit like a hot dog on a 7-Eleven grill until it reads things like your weight, temperature, pulse, respiratory rate, and fat and muscle mass to build a 3D body model.

All this is sent immediately back to the exam room so physicians don’t have to do any unnecessary poking and prodding (they even have infrared devices to find veins so as to minimize said poking). And what an examination room! Reclining leather armchairs replace plastic doctor’s furniture, and instead of flimsy blue gowns, Lululemon workout gear awaits for patients to change into.

The information from your body scan will already be on a fullscreen video monitor, which your doctor will flip through via touchscreen as you two look at the information. You can discuss which issues you’d like to focus on—lose weight, lower cholesterol—and develop a plan to tackle them together.

A Forward exam room.

And to ensure that your physician can focus on you instead of on taking notes, a remote medical assistant listens to the session and takes notes for the doctor (which then appear on the screen as you two continue to meet).

“It’s much more collaborative than a traditional environment,” says Favini of the process. “We do it together.”

All this information will then be uploaded to your Forward app, so you can view it at any time. It also gives you 24-7 access to chat with physicians about issues that may not require an in-person visit—say, a runny nose or unusual reaction.

And if you’re out-of-town and in need of a doctor, you can send a text outlining your medical needs and the Forward team will direct you to the closest medical site. “We’ve literally had people messaging us from remote mountains in the Philippines,” says Favini.

Forward is officially open in DC.

Forward offers genetic testing, too, so patients can take preventative steps to combat conditions for which they’re at a higher risk, as well as blood testing. There’s a lab on-site, so doctors can quickly process results and address them in-person, rather than patients waiting for a phone call or piece of mail.

And while Forward offers services like pap smears, STD testing, cancer screenings, and sleep management, if you require a specialized service or testing outside of its capabilites, Forward will refer you and schedule the appointment. (You’ll have to pay for it out of pocket, though, which is why the group is mostly meant to be a supplement to those who also have some form of insurance, says Favini, although the group does have many uninsured patients.)

DC isn’t the only place getting the futuristic primary care treatment: Forward also has locations in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Orange County, and New York, with plenty more sites in the works across the country.

Forward; 801 9th St. NW

Mimi Montgomery Washingtonian
Home & Features Editor

Mimi Montgomery joined Washingtonian in 2018. She’s written for The Washington Post, Garden & Gun, Outside Magazine, Washington City Paper, DCist, and PoPVille. Originally from North Carolina, she now lives in Del Ray.