Key points to remember
- Allara is a new telehealth service that virtually connects healthcare professionals and people with PCOS.
- PCOS cannot be cured, but with collaborative solutions from many areas of health, it can be managed.
- Telehealth platforms make it easier than ever for people to connect with doctors to get prescriptions, discuss non-serious symptoms, and more.
- Telehealth may be changing the way we use health care, but barriers like cost and Internet access are hampering its reach.
We are all our best advocates when it comes to taking care of our health. But between looking for doctors, doing research, and making the connections between different symptoms and treatment plans, doing what’s best for our bodies can be a challenge.
After Rachel Empty was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) about 10 years ago, found herself frustrated as she scoured the internet and social media for answers on how best to manage her chronic disease. With her experience in telehealth and healthcare technology platforms, she figured she could create a better solution for herself and for other women with PCOS.
“If you’re a woman with a chronic condition, like PCOS or endometriosis, you really don’t have anywhere to go right now,” said Blank, founder and CEO of the new women’s telehealth company. Allara, in Verywell. “Allara was really designed to be the specialist care platform that can help women manage these conditions virtually, and we’re starting specifically with a chronic treatment program for PCOS.”
There is no cure for PCOS, and symptoms can show up in a variety of ways, ranging from irregular periods and weight gain to acne and excessive hair growth. Women with PCOS are also at high risk for developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, depression, and anxiety. But, with medication and changes in diet and exercise habits, the symptoms of PCOS can be managed.
Using virtual collaboration to help people with PCOS
Allara launched her online telehealth platform on June 9, 2021 and already has a waiting list of more than 5,000 women interested in starting a membership plan, Blank says.
The service connects women with PCOS with health care providers and registered dietitians to develop a personalized plan to help manage symptoms. Providers and patients stay on the same page with unlimited text messaging recordings and frequent video calls. Patients will work with the same dietitians and physicians each time to make them feel comfortable forming personal relationships.
Blank says this type of collaborative process is exactly what mainstream healthcare has been missing in recent years.
“You might see your dermatologist, your gynecologist, and ideally a nutritionist, but with the healthcare system in particular being so siled, it can be difficult to put it all together and understand the root cause of what’s going on,” says Blank. “Especially if you’re a woman who goes to all these different providers for all these different needs, these providers don’t talk to each other and you might not get an accurate diagnosis of what’s going on.”
This is part of the reason why even though PCOS affects an estimated 5 million women in the United States, it can sometimes take years to get a diagnosis or a useful management plan, says Blank. Meeting collaborative professionals can be a way for women to feel supported and find treatments that work.
It also facilitates access to women’s health specialists, Heather Huddleston, MD, a member of Allara’s medical leadership team and director of the PCOS clinic and research program at UCSF, told Verywell.
“There aren’t many specialists or providers who necessarily understand PCOS or who have spent a lot of time thinking about the best ways to deal with it,” Huddleston said. “Allara’s vision of doing it in a way that could reach a lot more people across the country, perhaps in areas less well served by these type of providers, I thought was really exciting. . ”
Allara and the growing world of telehealth
Although telehealth has been around for decades, advancements in technology and the COVID-19 pandemic have made doctor visits virtually all the more attractive. In many cases, this can save patients and physicians time and unnecessary risk, and can be a great substitute or complement to traditional in-person care.
There are basically two different types of telehealth, explains Blank. The first makes primary care more accessible and meets basic health needs. There are platforms like Amwell, Teladoc or Doctor on Demand that allow patients to virtually connect with health professionals licensed in their condition and deal with topics such as pain management, mental health issues. , laboratory results, etc. Rory, a healthcare company that Blank also co-founded before creating Allara, and many other similar companies specialize in shipping prescription drugs directly to people’s front doors after meeting doctors online.
Blank sees Allara as a second iteration of telehealth, where accessing doctors online not only makes it easier, but actually creates the possibility of more personalized, 24-hour specialist care, which is really helpful for physicians. people who deal with chronic illnesses like PCOS.
“Especially after COVID, we realized how much we can use telehealth more than we ever imagined,” Blank said. “And now it’s not just about how to make healthcare more convenient, but how do we actually use technology to deliver better healthcare? ”
Allara’s telehealth visits with dietitians and medical professionals will be a complement to in-person doctor visits, not a replacement, Blank says. There are aspects of PCOS treatment that cannot be done virtually.
“We will never do a smear virtually, nor will we do IVF virtually,” Blank said. “So longer term, I really see this as a partnership with traditional healthcare where a woman sees her traditional OBGYN once a year and works with us in between.”
The extent to which telehealth will replace or complement traditional in-person care in the future depends on the success and comprehensiveness of virtual care, says Huddleston.
“Ultimately, I think we will look to patients to tell us how acceptable this is to them. Our role as providers is to provide care in the best way for patients,” said Huddleston. “If it works for patients, if they feel their needs are being met through these platforms or telehealth mechanisms, and if we as providers believe that we are providing the most appropriate care and whether patients make the changes we want them to or stick to their medications – if all of these are successful, I think this path will continue. ”
Accessibility and the future
Even though telehealth, at its core, is about making health care more accessible and convenient for those who need it, there are still barriers. Telehealth requires some sort of electronic device, good Internet access, and a private space to have confidential conversations with doctors, a luxury not all Americans have.
At present, Allara’s services are also not available to everyone. Memberships start at $ 100 per month, and although Allara is partnering with insurance companies to cover lab work and prescriptions, at this time health insurance will not cover memberships. Allara is also currently only available in eight states.
Blank says Allara is expanding accessibility as soon as possible, hopefully in a dozen other states by the end of the year, and is working with insurers to cover some costs going forward.
Blank wants Allara to eventually become a hub for all kinds of chronic reproductive issues in women, not just PCOS. She hopes to provide personalized virtual care to women who often fail to find adequate answers within the confines of traditional healthcare.
“For us, this is how to become the virtual care platform for all of the complex care needs of women, be it PCOS, endometriosis, uterine fibroids, things that affect women. because of their chronic reproductive care needs? ” White says. “We want to be that partner for all women.”
What it means to you
Telehealth sites like Allara, Rachel Blank’s new PCOS management platform, can help you receive personalized care online. Barriers to telehealth still exist, but meeting virtually a team of healthcare professionals can give you more collaborative and comprehensive treatment options that are always readily available.