Interview: How Telemedicine Platform Rory Is Extending Digital, On-Demand Care To Menopausal Women
Rory is a women's service from men's health care platform Ro, focused on using telehealth capabilities to support the underserved demographic of perimenopausal and menopausal women
As telemedicine continues to grow in popularity, the space remains focused on millennials and, therefore, the health issues that younger people tend to face—often leaving older demographics out of the picture. Taking advantage of this opportunity, Ro, the startup behind men's healthcare platform Roman, which is focused on treating more sensitive issues like erectile dysfunction, is launching Rory, a telehealth provider that connects women with online doctors.
Centered around the symptoms that menopausal and perimenopausal women experience, Rory strives to offer education, support and treatment from certified physicians, ranging from supplements to prescription medications. PSFK spoke to Rory co-founder Rachel Blank to learn more about the platform and how it achieves its goal of empowering women with access to the resources, treatment and community they need to take control of their own health.
PSFK: Could you explain how you became interested in the women's health care space?
Rachel: I grew up around women's health. My dad is an OB GYN in Washington, D.C. That interest deepened for me when I went through my own experiences with the health care system, and with women's health issues.
I was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome when I was about 22. It's a hormonal imbalance that causes symptoms similar to what you might experience in menopause, as that also is a result of hormonal changes.
I had been experiencing symptoms for years, but never really thought twice about it, even though my dad is a gynecologist. I had an abdominal sonogram. The sonographer said, “Did you know you have PCOS? You have cysts all over your ovaries.” I said, “No.” I had no idea. That was this jarring moment of learning that there was something very off with my body that I didn't know about.
What's really crazy to me is that 1 in 10 women has PCOS, and yet there's really not a lot of education about it. When I was first diagnosed, I experienced that scary feeling of, “What does this mean for me? Am I some sort of freak because I have this?” That doesn't need to be the case.
I was lucky enough to have a father who was a physician, whom I can call at any time that I have a question. The older I got, the more I realized that most women don't have that. They don't have a person that they can call at 2:00 AM if they're freaked out about something.
I met the Ro team when I was working at General Catalyst and saw them pitch when General Catalyst was leading their seed rounds.
It really was an aha moment for me: This platform that they were providing as a place for people to go, seek treatment, and get support for something that otherwise can feel very stigmatized and very isolating, would be amazing for women to have. Our goal at Ro is to serve personalized health care to every person on the planet. You can't do that if you're treating half of the population.
With Roman, was that there was that personal connection to the brand. They knew that in order to serve women properly, they would need somebody who actually understood what it was like to be a woman with a health care issue going through the health care system. That was where I joined—to build Rory off of the Ro platform. Out of my own experiences, Rory was built to serve the needs of women going through perimenopause and menopause.
The biggest population of women going through hormonal changes are women in perimenopause and menopause. There are over 40 million women in that age demographic, between ages 45 and 65, right now. The great thing is, every single woman will be going through perimenopause or menopause at some point. We built Rory to serve the needs of this huge population of women who are going through a time in their lives that's completely natural and completely normal, and yet can feel scary because people don't talk about it very much.
How do you feel existing brands or health care companies were failing to serve this large demographic of women?
We were having a lot of conversations with women going through menopause. Though I have my personal experience going through PCOS and understanding what hormonal changes feel like, it was really important to me to listen to women going through perimenopause and menopause to understand their their needs.
What we kept hearing was that women felt unprepared. There is no textbook on menopause. Most people who started experiencing the symptoms, just like I did when I experienced PCOS symptoms, had no idea what it was. They thought maybe they were pregnant. They thought that maybe just something weird started happening with their period.
A lot of doctors are not actually trained in menopause. Τhe majority of women are never actually treated for any symptoms of menopause. A lot of that comes down to this lack of education and lack of awareness. If we look at what's been happening in the telemedicine space, where it has fallen short a bit is that a lot of the companies involved are addressing the needs of the younger consumer.
They ignore this entire population of older women. Maybe it's because we have this image of an older woman not being tech savvy. If you think about it though, they're all women like my mom—using Uber, staying in Airbnbs, shopping online, and they deserve the extended access to care and information that everyone else is getting through telemedicine.
That is why we built RORY—to meet the needs of the modern woman going through menopause.
PSFK: How is Rory attempting to combat this stigma and lack of education that exists around women's health?
Rory is addressing the lack of education and stigma in a few ways. The first is we will not speak about symptoms in a way that sugarcoats them or is patronizing. If you have vaginal dryness, we will say, “vaginal dryness.” We will say the word vagina, which I know is uncomfortable for some people to say.
My hope is that by saying the word vagina over and over, people will become comfortable with it. I grew up with my dad saying the word. He's say, “It's a medical body part.” That's the message that we need to be sharing with the rest of the world.
The second is, at the end of the day, Rory is about providing support and education. In addition to the solutions that we offer, which are all treatments that were designed by a team of medical experts, we have an all-female medical advisory board who are also leading experts in women's health. We have a former surgeon general, leading OB GYN on our medical advisory team, as well as a team of physicians actually treating the women on our platform who all have special training in women's health.
All of the treatments that we offer were designed by those physicians. On top of that, we have educational material. We have a blog with a ton of content on all the different facets of what happens to women's bodies at midlife. We also have a community on Facebook that is designed to support women. Again, we kept hearing that women felt alone going through this process. This community is a place for them to connect with each other to understand that other people are going through the same problems and same symptoms, and to learn from each other.
Was it important for you to have an all-female board?
Yes. The most important thing was to build an authentic, meaningful experience for the women who are going through perimenopause and menopause. One of the best ways that we can do that is by designing Rory from the lens of women who have had their own experiences with the health care system, who understand what it's like to be a woman in the health care system and also are experts in the field. At the end of the day, it's about giving women a voice and a place to take control of their bodies.
Could you describe how the platform works?
When visitors come on to our site, we have educational materials that explain the different solutions to their issues, explain why we chose them and explain why they might want over the counter versus prescription. Then, if they choose an over the counter product, they can just purchase that directly.
Every treatment that we offer, whether prescription or over the counter, has been reviewed and designed by our medical team. We would only offer things that we feel comfortable with and that would provide the best experience to the member.
If they choose a prescription product, they would start an online visit, which was developed by our team of medical experts. That is a dynamic online visit, so as they go through it, the questions will adapt based on what they have input.
If they say that they're experiencing hot flashes, we might say, “Do you have a family history of another disease?” If they said yes, we might ask for more details on that family history. The visit evolves so that we can get every piece of information that the physician might need to treat their symptoms.
If you think about what an in-person visit is like right now, patients have about 10 minutes with the doctor. They're almost spending as much time dressing and undressing as they are actually speaking with the physician. When they go through this online visit, they can take as much time as they want. They can do it at their own pace.
Once they complete that online visit, all of that information will be sent to one of the physicians on our platform who will then determine if the medication is appropriate. If so, they will write a prescription which we will deliver to the customer's door in discreet packaging.
If customers have any questions at all, they could always chat their physician and send them a message in our secure messaging app. This treatment doesn't end when you get they medication or treatment. It actually continues from there because they have a relationship established with a physician. For any individual treatment, they will always have the same physician to message.
Are there other types of sessions—phone calls, video chats?
It depends. They always start with that online visit because we want the physician to have every possible piece of information before hand. From there, depending on the issue in question, it could lead to messaging, a phone call or a video chat.
There's no app component to Rory currently. What is great about Rory and the Ro system in general is that we built our own electronic medical record system. Anything that you input into Rory is all tracked in our EMR, accessible to the physicians on the platform. Any physician you interact with on our platform will have all of that detailed information about you any time that they're looking at your chart.
Could you explain why you offer both OTC and prescription medications?
One is, if you look at health care more generally, there's a sense of wellness becoming a part of the health care system. Fewer people view health care and medication as completely isolated from things like supplements, and yoga and exercise. It's more integrated with a lifestyle holistically. It might be someone is taking medication, but they're also going to Peloton after work. That, to them, is living an integrated healthy life.
Additionally, the more we spoke to women going through these symptoms, many of them mentioned that they didn't necessarily want to jump to prescription—they wanted alternatives or more natural options. Since Rory is about giving women control over their bodies, we wanted to give women options. If they feel like vitamins are a more appropriate solution for them, or they want to start with a vitamin supplement and see how that works for them, they can absolutely do that.
You mentioned a Facebook group. Could you talk a little bit more about how Rory enables community support for members?
We kept hearing from our customers, “I feel alone. I feel isolated. I feel like I'm the only one experiencing this.” We built the Facebook community to have a place where women can interact directly with each other, where they can tell each other what they're going through and offer support. We're looking to expand that community further, perhaps through IRL events and meetups.
How do you see Rory evolving over the next few years?
For Rory, this is the beginning of what we can tackle in women's health care, as menopausal and perimenopausal women is such an underserved space. Whatever direction we go in, my dream for Rory and is first and foremost a way to give women access to education, access to language to use when they're interacting with the health care system, and an understanding that whatever they go through with their body, they have a way to take control and to advocate for themselves and suggest a treatment that they need.
We think that we can do that both with the solutions that we offer, but also with the education, with support we provide—and with making it OK to say vagina in public. At Rory, we're providing that partner in the health care system for women so that they can live their life on their own terms.
Rory was built from a place of understanding what it's like to be a woman in the health care system, of listening to women going through menopause and of our own personal experiences. We are here for every woman to feel like they can take control. Rory is about empowerment for women. I'm excited for it to come to life and to be that advocate for women.