A Startup That Bears Watching in Primary Care Market

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Speculation has been rampant that Amazon is working on a version of its Prime subscription service for health care. Now a Seattle startup, led by a former Microsoft executive who has recruited a former chief product officer from Amazon Prime, may beat them to the punch — at least in the primary care market.

Backed by private investors ranging from former Goldman Sachs’ CFO David Viniar to BlackRock’s Larry Fink, 98point6 is melding a direct primary care subscription model with virtual care approach to give consumers a low-cost way to establish a relationship with a primary care physician. A CNBC report states that 98point6 offers a messaging service for patients and doctors to connect at an introductory price of $20 a year with no additional fees for a visit (after the first year, it costs $120).

Aside from the price tag, the big attraction for consumers is the ability to message a doctor at any time. The company argues that this will sharply cut administrative work that burns out physicians, potentially turning them into advocates for the product. If it’s successful, the approach could also improve access to high-quality family doctors while reducing costs and improving patients’ health. 98point6 is also pushing employers to cover the service. About 50 self-insured employers, including Seattle Children’s Hospital, have signed up to date and growth is accelerating. In all, about 160,000 members now pay for the service.

Market timing also appears good for 98point6 and other market competitors after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released data showing that Americans made 106 million fewer office visits to physician offices in 2016 than in 2015. Some of the decrease is attributable to value-based payment shifting to outpatient settings, but telehealth and retail clinics are also eating into office-based encounters, Healthcare Dive reports.

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