A crop of new startups promise to make going to the doctor easier and cheaper. I put them to the test.


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  • I tested different ways to get healthcare from startups promising to make getting healthcare an easier experience, and possibly more affordable.
  • For my routine healthcare visits, I tried out both virtual and in-person services from SmileDirectClub, Curology for skin, Tia for women’s health, Warby Parker for eyeglasses, Simple Contacts, and One Medical for my primary care.
  • Here’s what each one was like to use, how long each visit took, how much it cost, and whether I’d use it again.
  • This article is part of Business Insider’s coverage of the future of healthcare. You can read all our articles here.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

When it comes to health, I’ve been pretty lucky.

I live in one of the most healthcare-centric cities in the world. I can’t go very far without running into a hospital or urgent-care center. In New York, a doctor is never more than a walk or a short train ride away.

Even so, finding the right place to go has been my biggest challenge since moving from the Chicago area out East four years ago. For the first time in my life, I’ve had to navigate where to find a primary-care doctor, where to go to the dentist, things that had been taken care of so simply through existing appointments scheduled on a yearly or twice-yearly basis throughout my childhood and young-adult years.

In my role at Business Insider, I’ve been tracking a new crop of companies that have reached sky-high valuations or generated a lot of buzz, all with the aim to change the way Americans get healthcare. It ranges from companies like One Medical, the primary-care company that’s been around for more than a decade, to newer entrants like Tia or Simple Contacts.

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The goal many seem to be getting at is making healthcare a more consumer-friendly experience, elevating it to the experience you’d get shopping on Amazon or when buying beauty products.

So I decided to put the startups to the test. A little about me: I’m 26 and I’m pretty healthy. I have a high deductible health plan with a $2,000 deductible as well as a health savings account. I’m on the hook for covering the full cost of any non-preventive visit until I hit that deductible.

With that in mind, I picked health services that best complemented the care I’d already been seeking out or meaning to get. That is, I didn’t add vitamins to my regimen because I don’t take them now, but I did add a dermatology visit because I’d been meaning to go.

What surprised me most about using the digital startups was how much paper I still had to fill out and how many phone calls I still ended up making. There were fewer visits with medical doctors, and a bigger lack of follow-up than I would’ve expected.

On the upside, virtual visits saved me a lot of time and required far fewer passwords than I imagined. For in-person visits, I spent almost no time in waiting rooms before I was taken away to my appointments.

Read on for more about each of the startups I tried:

I got my glasses prescription renewed online with Warby Parker

Over the past few years, Warby Parker has started offering more and more eye-exam services, including in-store visits and virtual prescription checks.

To take the test, I used my phone as a remote and placed my computer screen a few feet in front of me and followed the prompts via swipes on my iPhone’s screen. The test informed me that this wasn’t meant to replace a comprehensive eye-health exam. A day later, I had my prescription.

Time: My exam took about 15 minutes. Factoring in in-person trying on and fitting, I likely spent about an hour on getting my new frames.

Price: The test costs $40, if you’re given a prescription. That’s higher than my $10 eye-exam copay if I had chosen to go in-person to renew my prescription.

Pros: I was able to get new glasses, which I went on to find out were covered by insurance while talking to a Warby Parker representative on the phone to place my order.

Cons: It was a more expensive option than if I had gone in for a comprehensive eye exam, which would have included more tests of my eye health.

The verdict: With the knowledge of what my vision plan would cover for an in-person eye visit, I’ll likely do that next time just to be sure my eyes are still as healthy as they seem to be.

I updated my skin-care routine with Curology

I’d been meaning to get my skin more under control for a while, so I figured I’d test out Curology, a company that prescribes personalized acne treatments online. The process was pretty simple, once I got to Curology’s website. I started the free trial, shared my history with acne products and other prescriptions/health conditions I might have.

I mentioned my concerns about using certain acne treatments given my past experience, sent in some photos, and off the assessment went to a medical professional who would review and prescribe me a course of action.

A few days later, my solution arrived in the mail along with moisturizer and cleanser. The medical provider who reviewed my case also gave me over-the-counter options for cleansers and a moisturizer with sunscreen, something I’d been meaning to add to my routine.

Time: 10 minutes to do the exam; I got my prescription the next day. 

Price: $5 for the initial one-month free trial bottle, $40 for a two-month supply of the solution after that. 

Pros: It’s nice to have a plan, and it’s nice to have a chance to follow up via Curology’s website to share how I’m progressing. 

Cons: My skin seems worse than it did before. I’m guessing I’m just in the throes of getting started on a new plan, and I’ve been able to check in periodically with my medical professional about it, something I might’ve had a harder time doing in a traditional dermatology practice. 

The verdict: In dermatology, it seems that virtual, direct-to-consumer approaches have the advantage. I avoided the much higher cost of an office visit, and it didn’t take more than a few minutes to get me started on a care plan that I’d been neglecting. 

I visited Tia’s first clinic for my annual well-woman exam

When I heard that women’s health startup Tia was opening a New York clinic, which takes insurance and comes with a $150 annual fee, I figured I should give it a try.

After signing in through a tablet at the front office, I was led to an exam room where providers asked me about my medical history and what had brought me in today. The providers cast the notes onto a screen in the room, which was a fun way to visualize my health. I could also look over their shoulders to see their screens. 

Time: From start to finish, I was at the clinic for about an hour. 

Price: $150 annual fee, with insurance covering the underlying visits. The fee goes toward services like the messaging and booking platform, programming at Tia, and access to group wellness events. 

Pros: I never had to wait once I stepped foot into the clinic. The care team listened to my concerns and offered up solutions, but didn’t pressure me into any one course of action. 

Cons: Demand for Tia’s services were more than the founders anticipated, so getting an appointment as a new member isn’t quite as easy as it will ideally be one day (for the purposes of the review, I had some help in booking). I also had a hard time figuring out how to follow up with the healthcare provider who had done my exam, which will ideally be fixed when Tia’s care team messaging platform launches in a few weeks. 

The verdict: I’ll be excited when it’s all up and running, it certainly was among the better gynecology appointments I’ve been to. I’m excited to attend some of the events, which are included in the yearly membership fee. 

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