AI-powered health care pods allow users to complete blood draws, throat swabs, other services without on-site medical staff

News & Politics

Forward health, a digital health startup, recently announced the world’s first artificial intelligence-powered doctor’s office.

The company raised $100 million to launch CarePod, a self-serve, standalone health care medical station that aims to blend AI with medical expertise.

Forward plans to deploy CarePods nationwide in malls, gyms, and offices. The first iterations of the self-contained pod will be rolled out in San Francisco, New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia, according to the company’s website.

For $99 per month, users can walk into a CarePod and access a number of tests and features. Subscribers receive 24/7 access to the service and are not billed every time they visit the kiosk.

“As soon as you step in, CarePods become your personalized gateway to a broad range of Health Apps, designed to treat the issues of today and prevent the issues of tomorrow. You can enjoy on-demand access to Forward CarePods, which include disease detection, biometric body scans, blood testing, and so much more,” Forward’s website explains.

CarePods can “address a wide range of disease areas” through its integrated applications, including heart health, skin cancer scans, mental health, thyroid testing, weight management, diabetes screening, kidney health, liver health, HIV screening, and anemia screening.

The pods are unlocked using an app on the user’s mobile device. Inside the CarePod, users will find a large touchscreen and a chair. They will then be guided through using the pod’s various services and features, including how to complete a full body scan, provide a blood sample, check their blood pressure, and complete throat swabs. Should a user need a medical professional, they can arrange to speak to a doctor through their mobile app.

Forward CEO Adrian Aoun told TechCrunch in 2017, “We need to figure out how to scale doctors so that they touch more lives. … The same way an engineer can scale through software.”

Aoun recently told the outlet that doctor’s offices are “a thing of the past.”

In a statement to TechCrunch, Forward addressed potential privacy concerns related to using its pods.

“Forward uses best-in-class security practices for data encryption and access control. We regularly conduct third-party security audits to evaluate our security position and ensure strict controls. We have a robust set of privacy practices in compliance with federal laws to safeguard our members’ data. Forward members always own their own data and we will never sell their data to third parties,” the company stated.

Earlier this year, a Pew Research Center report found that 60% of Americans said they would be “uncomfortable” if their health care provider relied on AI-powered technology to diagnose disease and recommend treatment options. Only 39% said they would be comfortable.

Additionally, many surveyed expressed concern that AI in health care would negatively impact the personal connection between a patient and their provider.

“The security of health records is also a source of some concern for Americans: 37% think using AI in health and medicine would make the security of patients’ records worse, compared with 22% who think it would improve security,” the report found.

For AI tools to learn how to diagnose patients properly, developers must train the system on large swaths of private health data, Thomson Reuters reported. These practices have sparked concerns regarding poor privacy protections and third-party vendors using personal information without first fully informing patients.

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