Primary Health Health Tech Startup Carbon Health has added a new element to its “omnichannel” approach to health with the launch of a new pop-up clinic model already available in San Francisco, LA, Seattle, Brooklyn and Manhattan. Detroit will follow shortly – and this will roll out to be available in a variety of key markets across the US over the next few weeks and months, ultimately leading to 100 new COVID-19 test sites adding testing capacity on the order of an additional 100,000 patients each Month will increase across the country.
So far, Carbon Health has focused its COVID-19 efforts on its existing facilities in the Bay Area as well as pop-up test sites that have been set up in and around San Francisco in partnership with genomics startup Color and local authorities. Now, Carbon Health CEO and Co-Founder, Even Bali, tells me in an interview that the company believes it is time to capitalize on what we have learned and apply it nationally, with a model that is flexible and Speed enables commitment. In fact, Bali says they recognized and worked towards this goal back in March.
“We started working on the COVID response back in February because we saw patients literally coming to our clinics from Wuhan, China,”
It started with things Carbon could do locally, near his home. For Bali and his team, however, it was clear early on that the efforts needed to be broader. For this purpose, Carbon was able to draw on its early experience.
“We worked locally, we went to nursing homes, we worked with companies to help them reopen,” he told me. “At this point, we’ve probably done more than 200,000 COVID tests ourselves. And I think I’m doing more than half the entire Bay Area if you factor in that this is also the San Francisco City initiative partially Powered by Carbon Health so we’re already trying to scale up as much as possible, but at some point we ran into some physical space constraints and back in March we had the idea of scaling up with more pop-up clinics and more mobile clinics than you can actually scale up faster set up as a physical place. “
To this end, Carbon Health also began using a mobile trailer that drove from town to town to conduct tests for communities that were usually not well served. That was kind of a prototype of this model, after all, using construction trailers like you would see in a new apartment under development that doubles as a foremen’s office but has been renovated and equipped with everything medical professionals need for on-site COVID testing . Again, this is a more temporary solution as Carbon Health is working with a manufacturing company to create a more purpose-built custom design that can be manufactured on a large scale to expedite the delivery of these solutions even faster.
Carbon Health works with Reef Technologies, a SoftBank -supported startup turning parking lots into business locations including food service, fulfillment and now Carbon’s Medical Clinics. This has added immensely to the complications of local licensing and real estate regulations, Bali says. This means that Carbon Health’s pop-up clinics can bypass much of the red tape that slows the process of opening more traditional, permanent locations.
While cost is a benefit of using this model, Bali says it is nowhere near as cheap as you might think when you open a more traditional clinic – at least until custom manufacturing and economies of scale take hold. But speed is the big advantage and this is what helps Carbon Health foresee from this particular moment how these will be used either after the pandemic or during the later stage of vaccine distribution in the COVID crisis. Bali advises that any approved vaccine must be given to patients, which requires as much, if not more, infrastructure than testing.
In the meantime, Carbon Health’s pop-up model could bridge the gap between traditional primary care and telehealth as the need for ongoing care is unrelated to COVID.
“A lot of the problems that telemedicine isn’t a good solution to are the things that video check-in with a doctor is almost enough, but you need some diagnostic tests – maybe you need an administration, or you may really need one simple physical exam can be performed, which the nurse can perform, with instructions from the doctor. So when you think about these cases, almost 90% of all visits can actually be done with a doctor on video and the nursing staff in person. “
COVID testing is an imminent, important need across the country – and the administration of COVID vaccines will hopefully soon replace them with just as much urgency. But even after the pandemic ends, health care in general will change dramatically and the Carbon Health model could be a more permanent and scalable way to meet the needs of distributed care everywhere.