A Holistic Approach to Women’s Healthcare

The confines of the current healthcare system often fail to provide truly comprehensive, wraparound experience for patients, especially women, who are often challenged with added limitations around access, knowledge and definitive solutions.

Luckily for patients, there are entrepreneurs changing this reality, and they are building companies like Visana Health and Athelo Health.

“People tend to think about women's health as maternity, fertility, and infertility but completely ignore all the other conditions that fall outside these areas. A lot of those conditions are challenging, common, costly, but can be difficult to talk about,” said Shelly Lanning, Co-Founder and President of Visana Health.

Visana does not shy away. Lanning pointed out that there are dozens of different birth control options, but most doctors can only name a few. It’s this kind of whole-person model of care that separates Visana from traditional healthcare models.

“We are not a point solution, rather we treat dozens of women's health conditions that range from simple to complex,” Lanning said. “Women who come to us tend to have 3 to 4 different comorbidities. They don't just have endometriosis; they also have chronic pelvic pain. They also have anxiety and maybe depression. We aim to treat the whole self, not just the one symptom or ailment a woman is struggling with.”

According to Lanning, more than 50 percent of U.S. counties do not have a hospital-based obstetrician locally. Women often drive hours to see a specialist, and if those providers are not addressing the whole picture, it can leave women feeling frustrated and disengaged.

The solutions that many healthcare entrepreneurs are developing revolve around access, health equity and filling gaps in care. And when healthcare startups can take that a step further and connect to each other, the patient wins.

“If one of our patients has Athelo, we can help nicely transition care and work with them to be supportive of that person's care,” Lanning said. “I love what they're doing. It's a great team.”

Athelo Health recognizes cancer care is enormously complicated for patients to navigate. Processing the heavy emotions associated with treatment often takes place outside of the clinic throughout daily routines.

“We ultimately view ourselves as a virtual doula for the cancer care journey for women,” Jessica Thurmond and Monica Schmiede, Co-founders of Athelo Health, said. “We're founded on the pillars of providing community as well as validated content and telemedicine integration to help patients navigate their care from wherever they are.”

And they are truly patient focused. Peer communities have always been a big part of the business model, but what they found is that, for some, especially those with rare cancers, communities weren’t as effective. They took that direct feedback and general ideology into their overall approach.

“That's the goal of digital health, it’s not just a one size fits all solution,” Thurmond and Schmiede said. “It's truly being able to tailor that in a personalized way to the patient, to meet patients where they are, no matter where they are.”

And what the pair have learned being in the 1501 Health is that getting products to patients sooner rather than waiting for perfection is sometimes the way to go.

“That's so important for founders when they're thinking about accessibility. We want everything to be at the 11th tier. We want it to be the best,” Thurmond and Schmiede said. “And sometimes it's just better to get it into the patient's hands and get the feedback and find out versus creating what you think is the perfect vision of a product that may not actually be consumed by the patient.”

They noted working with “CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield and LifeBridge Health really kind of gave us a sandbox to pressure test solutions and meet with different care delivery teams to get feedback.”

Lanning had a similar experience in the 1501 Health cohort of benefiting from access to feedback and direction.

“When you're in an early-stage environment, everything's new. Everything is a fire drill. Everything is whack-a-mole. And being able to pick up the phone and have someone say, ‘let us find that person and be able to help answer those questions’ was hugely beneficial.”

The U.S. healthcare system has its broken pieces, but there is hope, and Lanning encourages other founders to build on that hope.

“I don't think it is possible to fix it totally in my lifetime,” Lanning said. “But if you can think about areas that your product can have an impact, go for it. I believe virtual health for women continues to be a huge advantage.”

About 1501 Health 

1501 Health is a unique partnership between Healthworx and LifeBridge Health, representing expertise in both health insurance and financing (payers) and healthcare delivery and services (providers). The investment and incubation program empowers entrepreneurs to get their innovative solutions to market and expand their impact in healthcare quality, access and affordability. To learn more about 1501Health, visit www.1501Health.com. 
About Healthworx 
Healthworx operates at the intersection of healthcare and innovation by creating, co-creating and investing in companies that are improving healthcare quality, accessibility, affordability and equity. As the innovation and investment arm of CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, Healthworx envisions a healthier future for all people by changing the way health works. To learn more about Healthworx, visit www.healthworx.com. 
About LifeBridge Health 
LifeBridge Health is one of the largest, most comprehensive providers of health services in Maryland. LifeBridge Health includes Sinai Hospital of Baltimore, Northwest Hospital, Carroll Hospital, Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital, Grace Medical Center and related affiliates. For more information, visit www.lifebridgehealth.org