Textual Healing: Startup Connects Virtual Healthcare To Sam’s Club Members

The house call — a kindly doctor lugging a black bag to the doorstep — is a thing of the past.

Now, waiting rooms are cramped. But in the age of the pandemic, of course, even a visit to the waiting room is fraught.

In an interview with PYMNTS, Robbie Cape, co-founder and CEO of 98point6, a company that offers what it classifies as “text-based primary care” 24/7.

In terms of mechanics, patients with a question about their health, or suffering from a malady, log into the 98point6 mobile app, start a visit and immediately enter into what Cape said is an asynchronous visit with an automated assistant (which gathers the necessary health-related info), and then a board-certified primary care provider.

“You have a conversation that is very natural via text,” he said.

A provider (who is also an employee of the company), joins the conversation and can help deliver a complete care plan that is accessible via phone, 24/7.

Cape said that 98point6’s artificial intelligence (AI)-driven technology is able to follow up with the patient over the ensuing hours, days and even weeks to see how they are progressing. The company’s services are sold entirely on a membership basis, he said.

It also recently signed a major deal with Sam’s Club under which 98point6 will offer the club chain’s Club and Plus members discounted memberships in 98point6 as well. Qualified Sam’s Club members can join 98point6 for an introductory $20 per quarter and $33.50 every three months after that. That grants them unlimited access to the service for just $1 per virtual visit.

Cape said that 98point6’s artificial intelligence (AI)-driven technology is able to follow up with the patient over the ensuing hours, days and even weeks to see how they are progressing.

The company is riding the ongoing wave to virtual care and said last month that it has grown by more than 274 percent and now serves 3 million members. The company also said it raised $118 million in Series E funding.

But contrary to what may be the conventional wisdom that delivering online services means upending entire industries (witness Uber and the taxi industry), Cape noted to PYMNTS that “we have no plan, interest or desire to disrupt the healthcare industry. This may be a controversial view, maybe an unpopular view, for a technology company. We believe that the healthcare industry in the United States is more functional than it is dysfunctional.”

Against that backdrop, he said, the firm seeks to “bend certain curves with respect to healthcare,” and in particular primary care. That means bending the cost curve, the actual cost of delivery, down while bending the curve tied to the quality of care up.

The very concept of primary care, contended Cape, has devolved across the past 30 years, and is on track to disappear over the next decade and a half.

“The United States of America, when compared to other countries around the world, looks like an unhealthy country,” said Cape.

The U.S. ranks in the lower deciles, globally, when measured across metrics, such as quality of care — yet we spend more money, per capita, than any other country on healthcare services, he said.

In addition, many individuals have no relationship with primary care at all, where their interactions with the medical system are ties primarily to urgent care and visits to the emergency room, he said.

Restoring The Primary Care Relationship In The Digital Age

The long-standing relationship with the primary care doctor is receding into the distance, and according to Cape, that’s the very relationship the firm is seeking to save. Give an individual a more entrenched relationship with primary care, he said, and they are less likely to die a premature death, and by being more proactive about their health will save as much as 35 percent on healthcare costs over their lifetimes.

To get to that change, to re-establish that relationship, he stated that technology plays a key role. Healthcare needs to meet people where they are — via phones and tablets, where they allocate their time — as opposed to asking people to come to meet healthcare.

“That’s what the app experience is all about,” he told PYMNTS.

The app can deliver value in a world where people do not have hours out of their day to devote to traveling to a physician, sitting in a waiting room and finally being seen. They do, however, have the time and the literal bandwidth to devote 20 minutes to interacting with a physician.

Looking at key drivers in place, he said there’s been a boost in utilization by 98point6’s existing membership base. An increasing number of employers have been looking to save on healthcare costs and promote employee wellness and have embraced virtual healthcare. Corporate partnerships include Boeing, Circle K, Chipotle and other employers, who provide 98point6’s services to their workers.