Soon after I started working at K, I picked up a cold (probably from my 5 year old twins). As the headaches and congestion got worse, I fired up K and learned that what I probably had was a sinus infection…not something you want to be dealing with in the middle of building a startup. I was so busy with work that two more weeks of headaches and about a dozen tissue boxes went by before I finally got in to see a doctor to get some antibiotics. The irony that someone who works in healthcare still had such a difficult time getting care got me thinking about what more K needed to build in order to fully deliver on our ambition to put consumers back at the center of healthcare.
K gives users quick and accurate visibility into how doctors diagnose similar people with similar symptoms, but a diagnosis is just the beginning of a health journey like my sinus infection. To fully resolve health issues, we need access to a full stack of primary care services including doctors, prescriptions, lab tests, and so on. I wondered, could we build a truly consumer-centric primary care service within K, instead of just recreating the broken model of the traditional doctor visit on your phone, as so many telemedicine businesses have tried?
Exploring this question over the last year has led us to a very different vision of primary care than the traditional one most of us are familiar with. Our vision of the optimal primary care experience starts with empowering people at scale with smart, personalized health information to put them in control. It travels with you on your phone so it’s available when and where you need care. Perhaps most transformatively, it emphasizes continuous care over episodic care and makes it easier to connect with a high-quality doctor than ever before in the history of American healthcare.
After months of development, I’m proud to share that K Primary Care is live and serving people in a growing number of states. Below, we’ll explore how it works… but before we go any further, let’s start by understanding the problem we’re out to solve.
What’s wrong with existing models of primary healthcare?
It’s obvious to most people that traditional primary care is not consumer-centric— you make an appointment for next week, schlep across town to a doctor, wait an hour in the waiting room, pay your copay, get less than 15 minutes in a tiny room with the doctor just to find out, finally, what’s going on with your body and what you need to do to get better. And that’s only if you’re lucky enough to have insurance. But because everything is a spoken conversation that you can’t refer to afterward, most of it is forgotten or lost, leaving patients to search for that same information the next time they don’t feel well. The doctor visit hasn’t really evolved in decades. There’s little continuous care over time, and the cost of service is astronomical.
Why do we accept this? Well for starters, we simply don’t have an alternative. Healthcare sits at the intersection of federal law, state regulations, insurance requirements, and medical standards, which have settled into a financially lucrative status quo for these institutions and their stakeholders. The system is financially and structurally incentivized to maintain its current way of operating, especially because delivering a better patient experience doesn’t actually benefit their bottom line in a highly litigious, fee-for-service environment that encourages rapid patient evaluation. The advent of telemedicine seems like an opportunity to change things for the better, but unfortunately most telemedicine businesses simply recreate urgent care online (with all of its flaws), rather than reimagining primary care from the ground up.
So what does the optimal consumer experience in primary care look like?
As we dreamed about this as a team, the following qualities emerged. Fundamentally, we believe primary care should be:
- Accessible – you should have easy access to quality health care whenever and wherever you need it
- Empowering – you should have access to smarter, more personalized information to help you take more control of your health journey
- Personal – your doctor should be exclusively focused on you and should personalize your care rather than recommending generic solutions shaped by other competing priorities
- Affordable – you should be able to chat with a doctor whenever you need to without having to worry about what it costs
Let me paint you a picture of what we’ve built and how using K to get healthcare is different.
Using technology to improve access to quality medical care seems like an easy place to start, but it’s a huge win for underserved populations that don’t have access to care, and for busy people who don’t have time to get the care they need.
We all know that going to see a doctor can be inconvenient and that the medical information we find online can’t be trusted. Where almost every other service is now available 24/7 through your phone, primary healthcare is not. Our limited supply of doctors are simply too difficult to access—they’re anchored to weekday office hours that require us to schedule appointments and travel to their offices only to wait in a waiting room. The time away from work is a dealbreaker for many. The high cost of care is for others. And for those who are uninsured or under-insured, the barriers to quality care are unacceptably high. All of these factors cause people to increasingly depend on urgent care and clinics that prioritize quick fixes over a relationship built over time on a growing understanding of your health. In short, we’re overpaying for lower quality care for the sake of convenience. This can and should change.
The ideal primary care experience should be as universally accessible and convenient to use as other services we’ve come to rely on as utilities in our lives. It should be available 24/7, and travel with you on your phone, ready to help wherever and whenever you need care. It should make it easy and intuitive for you to share what’s wrong, provide an accurate diagnosis, and connect you with a doctor (if needed) within minutes. That’s why we built K Primary Care as a mobile-first platform and staffed our affiliated clinic with experienced doctors who are available to chat with you whenever you need them to build a deeper understanding of the patterns in your personal health over time.
Nothing in healthcare matters more than confidence that you’re doing the right thing for your health. If you don’t know what’s wrong or don’t trust your doctor’s diagnosis or treatment plan, you can feel paralyzed and anxious. But how do we know which doctors to trust? Many doctors are terrific, but we know they are only human and 12 million serious medical errors are made every year in the US. In an ideal world, wouldn’t it be nice to get a second opinion from dozens (or thousands) of doctors whenever you needed care?
K Primary Care empowers people with immediate access to trustworthy information and care that’s personalized to you. Our system not only connects you with a great doctor to get a diagnosis and treatment plan, but it also shows you how thousands of doctors diagnosed and treated similar people with similar symptoms. This combination of human doctor and AI assistant supports the doctor’s work, empowers people to ask smart questions, and gives both patient and doctor greater confidence that they are choosing the best possible path forward.
This is a new approach that unlocks exciting opportunities for more trustworthy care. Whereas an individual human doctor has cognitive limitations that prevent them from using mass amounts of available data when evaluating an individual patient, a machine like K can bring this data to bear in relevant ways. And it can continue to get smarter over time the more it knows about you. It can build a complete record of your health to help inform important healthcare decisions in the future. Long term, K can factor in more of your health data points like your genetic profile, family history, and lifestyle data. It can take into account the medications you take, environmental factors, and infectious disease prevalence in the area where you live. It may even evolve to factor in many things that medicine struggles to understand today—the nuanced impact of our moods/mindset, fatigue, exercise, nutrition, sleep, and more.
Put simply, the more information that feeds into a diagnosis and treatment plan, the more confident you can be in the quality of the care you’re receiving—and K Primary Care synthesizes more information about your health than any other primary care system available.
Too often, the experience of seeing a doctor in a traditional office setting makes people feel like they’re on a conveyor belt of rigid processes instead of being looked after in a thoughtful way. The endless forms that you already filled out the last time you were there… the doctor who spends most of the session typing billing notes into the computer instead of paying attention to you…the uncomfortable table covered in tissue paper—somewhere along the way we lost empathy in the primary care environment.
Traditional primary care as it existed many years ago was not so bad—you had a relationship with a family doctor, and you received continuous, genuine care over time. As the system grew and became more specialized, expensive, and complex, this relationship fell by the wayside.
How do we get it back? How do we change the environment of primary care so that doctors can focus their energy on the things that motivated them to get into medicine in the first place—listening to patients and helping them get better?
The answer starts with using technology to automate more of the experience, which gives the gift of time back to the doctor. K Primary Care uses K’s intelligent triage capabilities to unlock a more efficient consultation that works better for both doctors and patients. By the time a user connects with a K Primary Care doctor, K has already efficiently collected all the relevant information needed so that the consultation can start with thoughtful follow up questions rather than, “So, what’s bothering you today?”
Everything about a doctor consultation in K is designed to support quality care while saving time and cutting wasteful costs—our doctors spend 90% of their time speaking with and treating the patient. The AI-powered symptom triage automates the first part of your visit so the consultation time is spent discussing your diagnosis, prescriptions, lab test orders, and answering your questions. The chat format means that we don’t have to pay scribes or doctors to chart the details of your visit. You always have the transcript of your consultations on your phone.
In effect, technology has made it possible to chat with a doctor who already better understands your health and as a result, can spend more quality time listening to you instead of keeping notes. All of this technology lives in the background and frees up both doctor and patient to focus on what’s important—having a person-to-person conversation about how to get better.
With traditional doctors or telemedicine, each visit is a one-off conversation that costs $75+ if you don’t have insurance, and if you have a follow up question, there’s no continuity of care. You have to start all over again each time with a new visit, and pay for the new appointment.
With K Primary Care we wanted to approach the business model in a more consumer-centric way. Rather than charge patients per visit, why not give patients access to a doctor whenever they need one, and for as long as they’re needed? Health issues evolve over time, and people shouldn’t have to do a cost/benefit analysis each time they have a new question or concern. Offering access to doctors as an affordable membership is far more aligned with how health happens in the real world—it doesn’t start and stop… it’s an ongoing conversation.
With a K Primary Care membership, if you have a follow up question hours or days after your initial consultation, just reopen the conversation and a doctor on call can quickly pick up the conversation right where you left off. Our text-based chat allows the doctor to quickly read everything that was previously discussed so you never have to repeat yourself, and you don’t have to pay for a second, third, or fourth visit for the same health issue.
Even if you don’t have a follow up question, K will still proactively follow up with you to check on how you’re feeling and see if there’s anything else you need to feel better. The ability to talk to a doctor whenever you want at an affordable price is one of the special things that makes our members love K so much.
Fundamentally, we believe there are no reasons why getting high quality care from a doctor should be any less convenient than other services in society—it’s just that nobody has built it until now. We hope this article gives you a good idea of our approach to more efficient quality healthcare, but the best way to discover it is to try it for yourself.