Imagine you have a minor health problem — say, an earache. Then imagine you open an app, message a doctor and have a prescription to treat it delivered to your local pharmacy in minutes. Sound like a fantasy?
Cape, a Seattle-based entrepreneur, is the architect of 98point6’s ‘virtual clinic,’ an app that lets users have routine primary care visits with a certified doctor through a smartphone, all thanks to its artificial intelligence technology.
The company publicly launched its service Tuesday, a culmination of nearly two years in stealth mode, a year-long beta test and more than $35 million in venture funding.
“We are focused on solving the primary care crisis in America,” Cape told GeekWire, saying that the idea initially grew out of a severe shortage of primary care physicians. “On the demand and supply front, we’re literally killing our population. It’s phenomenal. We are attempting to solve that problem by marrying deep technology with stellar medicine.”
The app is now available to download in the Apple App Store and Google Play Store. For now, the service is available in California, Connecticut, Florida, Maryland, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Washington, and the company said it plans to expand service to all 50 states and Washington, D.C., by the end of the year.
The service also doesn’t require insurance to use. At its launch, unlimited use of the service for one year will cost users $20. The price jumps to $120 per year after that, about the same price as a Netflix subscription.
Cape — who sold his previous company, the family scheduling app Cozi, to Time Inc. in 2014 and spent 12 years at Microsoft — said 98point6’s secret sauce is AI-fueled chatbot that helps its doctors work more efficiently. When a user opens an appointment in 98point6, they start a conversation with the chatbot.
“In simple English, the bot is going to ask them, ‘so what’s bothering you today?’ Then the bot will proceed to ask them a set of questions that are related to that issue,” Cape said. “At the end of that experience, which can last a few minutes, all of that information is gathered together and — with an additional set of technology that we’ve built —it’s all presented to the doctor in a very efficient format.”
98point6 directly employs all the doctors who take visits on their service. After the chatbot has gathered the patient’s information, the doctor enters the conversation.
“They see all the information that the patient has delivered and they proceed to ask any additional questions they need to ask to make a final determination on the diagnosis and the treatment,” Cape said.
For now, the doctor also creates the care plan and writes out a prescription, but Cape said he eventually plans for 98point6’s AI to take over more of that work.
“Over time, you’ll see more and more of the tasks beyond the diagnosis and the treatment handled by our artificial intelligence,” he said.
The company’s goal is to resolve 85 percent of issues that users bring in. In February, the system resolved 93 percent of issues that users brought in, Cape said.
But he acknowledged that there are some problems that can’t be addressed in 98point6’s platform, like emergency situations or health problems that require in-person tests or care. Those might include treating a sprained ankle, taking blood tests or diagnosing a chronic condition like diabetes.
In those situations, Cape said the platform will recommend that users see another primary care doctor in person or find a local urgent care clinic.
Another unique element of 98point6 is its accessibility. Because the interactions are mobile and text-based (although video chat is also available) users can have a doctor’s visit from literally anywhere.
“They could be at home in bed, they could be at work in an open-air environment, they could be on the bus, they could even be standing in line at the grocery store,” Cape said.
The end goal is to address an increasing problem in America: Accessing primary care. Seeing a doctor regularly can help people stay healthier and, in the long run, vastly reduce healthcare costs to individuals and the overall healthcare system. Healthcare is now one-fifth of the U.S. GDP and growing, something many experts say is unsustainable.
There’s also a parallel problem: A lack of primary care doctors.
“By the year 2020, there will be a 20,000 physician shortage of primary care docs in the U.S. and That number will be 30,000 by 2025,” Cape said. “People need to use primary care more and we know that there’s a serious supply problem. So how do you address that? You make doctors more efficient.”