It’s a generally agreed-upon fact that doctor’s appointments are the worst. Extended waiting room sojourns often culminate in rushed consultations, and even if you love your doc, it can feel like all you have to show for the experience is a hastily written prescription and a gnarly dent in your bank account.
And if you’re dealing with one of the more mysterious maladies plaguing women—like an autoimmune disorder or a hormonal imbalance—this process can be even more frustrating and ineffective. But that may not be the case for much longer. A handful of healthcare startups are aiming to reshape the entire system from a tech-driven POV that puts feminine issues first.
Want to get to the root of your painful periods or acne, rather than muffling the symptoms with drugs? Destinations like FLO Living and Parsley Health are making functional medicine more accessible and affordable than ever before, helping women bring their health back into balance through nutrition, lifestyle interventions, and more.
“You have more female doctors, more female entrepreneurs.”
Need to score some birth control pills, but don’t have time to wait at the OB/GYN? You can now get a new Rx online through Nurx or Prjkt Ruby in the time it takes to order a unicorn latte. Eve Kit offers convenient, at-home testing for an array of STIs, while the 100-percent virtual Maven Clinic gives you anytime, anywhere access to a variety of health professionals who can provide everything from a UTI prescription to mental health care and fertility support.
Like those leading the charges for menstrual realness and femtech, the founders of these next-gen healthcare startups are determined to offer solutions for the kinds of women’s health challenges that aren’t usually talked about. And many of these leaders are women themselves—a surprising rarity in the medical world.
“Most key stakeholders at the helm of insurance companies, hospitals, government—even digital health companies—are men,” says Maven Clinic founder Katherine Ryder, a former journalist and venture capitalist. “It’s starting to change now, which is really exciting. You have more female doctors, more female entrepreneurs.”
So what does this mean for you? Here are 5 ways that the new wave of women’s health startups are making healthcare more affordable, personalized, and effective.
They’re making healthcare cheaper…
In the current system of copays and deductibles, a single doctor’s visit can often set a patient back several hundred dollars—and if you want to go the alternative route, the costs are often even higher.
“To go for an individual consultation with a functional medicine doctor is usually out-of-pocket and extremely expensive,” says Alisa Vitti, nutritionist and founder of FLO Living, a virtual hormonal health center for women. “We’re treating a lot of young women between the ages of 18 and 35 who can’t shell out [thousands of dollars].”
To that end, FLO Living offers women several different options for healing problem periods, including a 3-month food therapy program delivered digitally ($297) and a period-tracking app called MyFLO that doles out snippets of advice for common complaints ($1.99). Despite the lack of in-depth, one-on-one attention from a doctor, FLO Living clients report some pretty encouraging results. “Within two weeks to a month, [many clients] have major transformations to their cycle,” says Vitti. “The universal theme I hear is, ‘I can’t believe what happened to my health.’”
If you prefer a more traditional provider-patient tête-à-tête, that no longer has to eat up your monthly SoulCycle budget, either. “Maven Clinic appointments start at $18 for a 20-minute session with a nurse practitioner,” points out Ryder. “That’s less than the cost of most co-pays.”
…and you don’t need a top-tier insurance plan to get excellent care
Most of the healthcare startups previously mentioned bypass the insurance system completely, relying instead on a direct-to-consumer model similar to the one that’s now commonplace in retail.
Why? “As I see it, health insurance has stifled innovation in healthcare,” says Robin Berzin, MD, founder of next-gen functional medicine clinic Parsley Health. “If you [as a doctor] want to do something new and better in your service, you can’t—because insurance won’t pay for it. This means medical services don’t evolve very quickly.”
Instead, most startups offer their services at a flat rate, which is a win-win for both provider and patient. In Parsley’s case, members pay an annual membership fee of $1,600 that nets them a set number of doctor’s appointments, plus unlimited health coaching and emails with practitioners. The same goes for Nurx and Prjkt Ruby, which prescribe birth control for $20 or less regardless of whether you’re insured, and Eve Kit, where STI testing starts at $85.
You get lots of support beyond the 15-minute office visit
Another way that healthcare startups are aiming to disrupt the system? They’re dedicated to giving you more QT with your doctor. “Women’s health has been relegated to an annual 15-minute pap smear and breast exam with a GYN,” says Dr. Berzin. “Obviously, this isn’t enough time to discuss the interdependent health issues a woman faces, which include hormone imbalances, cardiovascular and blood sugar concerns, fertility optimization, mental health, and nutrition and well-being.”
At Parsley, the average visit is an impressive 50 minutes. “We collect hundreds of details of your personal story in order to understand you as an individual,” says Berzin. Maven Clinic applies a similar depth to its maternity offerings, which are offered to employees at Snapchat, among other businesses. “When Maven entered the maternity benefits market the existing solutions viewed maternity as a 9-month health experience that stopped in the labor and delivery ward,” says Ryder. “We are the first solution to include postpartum care and return-to-work services—which are central to having a child.”
Maven members without children have an unprecedented amount of support in between appointments, too. “Patients can engage with one another and practitioners in the Maven forum for anonymous, judgement-free support and advice,” says Ryder. Sure beats frantically Googling symptoms alone in your apartment. (And the freakouts that inevitably ensue.)
Your critical health data is at your fingertips
When it comes to healthcare, knowledge is power. And many businesses are giving patients more access to their own health data than ever by building digital-first businesses.
“Today’s world is digital and healthcare needs to catch up,” says Dr. Berzin, whose online patient portal was informed by Amazon and Apple. “At Parsley Health, we analyze your health over time using hundreds of [data] points, and we give you 24/7 access to your information through our custom dashboard.”
In the future, getting information about the state of your lady parts is likely to become even more seamless. A startup called NextGen Jane is currently developing a “smart tampon” that checks your menstrual blood each month for biomarkers that could signal otherwise asymptomatic infections and diseases. Given that early detection is key for lots of women’s health conditions, it’s already clear how this method would have an advantage over the standard once-yearly (or less frequent) pap smear and STI test.
No, your doctor’s office won’t become obsolete
There’s no question that these tech-driven healthcare platforms are saving people a lot of time trekking to the doctor’s office. For instance, many of Maven Clinic’s patients live in rural areas in the US—they’re presumably drawn to the service because of its convenience factor.
But that’s not to say that alternatives are going to totally take over. In-person, allopathic medicine still has its place, as every founder would be quick to affirm. “Western medicine excels at surgical procedures for life-saving interventions,” says Vitti—and that’s something none of these startups can offer.
As Vitti sees it, the future lies in cross-pollination between the old and new guards of medicine. “It makes a lot of sense for doctors to know about resources like these when they’re providing consults to patients,” she says. “So that could mean saying, ‘If you don’t want to go down the [conventional] road, there’s FLO Living or Parsley Health.’ Or, ‘If you can’t reach me all the time, there’s Maven Clinic.’”
But no matter how the future plays out, there’s no question that women’s healthcare is headed in a good direction. “Women’s health has been historically underserved,” says Ryder. “As more innovative solutions come on the market and as the industry as a whole shifts to value-based care, many areas of women’s health will improve.” And that could mean less need for doctor’s appointments altogether—something we can all get behind.
Between doctor’s visits, stay in tune with your body by learning what those secretions down there really mean. And here’s what your period blood can tell you about your health.
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