Tech start-ups are giving US healthcare services a slick makeover

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At Cityblock Health’s permanent locations across the US’s mid-Atlantic and Midwest, sleek waiting rooms are outfitted in royal-blue branding. In some cities, the company also deploys mobile units: huge, retrofitted motor caravans painted the same hue. Cityblock Health – which provides medical, mental health and social care – began as part of Sidewalk Labs, Google’s Urban Innovation group, to make healthcare more accessible. Its aesthetic doesn’t feel far from the shiny vibe of its Silicon Valley origins – almost like a hip, urban coffee shop.

It is one of an increasing number of start-ups, both physical and digital, that have come full steam ahead into the American healthcare industry. These businesses aim to transform the face of health services by replacing the staid, sterile and often difficult-to-navigate traditional system with something more inviting and efficient – even spa-like in some cases. While similar companies are popping up globally, there is a singular opportunity in the US, where private insurance is notoriously complex and opaque.

To succeed, these companies aim to address some of the country’s major pain healthcare points – chief among them cost and accessibility. For instance, some make appointment-booking easier, reduce time to see a doctor or even open access to once restricted medical-technology devices. Many of these businesses also work directly with private and government insurers, simplifying the process for patients as a core part of their business strategies.

With this approach, they’re not only trying to break down barriers – they’re also courting a new, younger group of consumers in ways that feel familiar and frictionless. Will it work?

The market opening

Many of these new healthcare players have physical locations with the same curated, minimalist feel and approach across different sectors of care. Dental-franchise Tend has dozens of US storefronts, all designed with warm woods and cool green tiles. They use an app for scheduling and tout transparent pricing. Patients can watch television with noise-cancelling headphones while they get their treatments; then rinse at “The Brushery”, designed for a “selfie moment”, according to Tend. One Medical, a membership-only chain of urgent-care centres, prioritises same-day bookings and has an on-site lab. In February 2023, Amazon completed an all-cash acquisition of the chain for $3.9bn (£3.07bn); then in November, they introduced memberships for Prime subscribers at the discounted annual price of $99 (£78).

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