When it comes to sensitive healthcare services, the typical consumer experience is inconvenient, expensive and uncomfortable.
To get a birth control pill, you first need a prescription from a doctor. This means you would have to schedule a consultation, deal with long waiting times at the clinic, and then make a separate visit to the pharmacy to purchase the medication.
Aside from the inconvenience, such sensitive healthcare issues are also highly stigmatised. People are afraid of being judged and as a result, refrain from talking about these topics even when they need help or support.
“We want to provide a platform where people can feel comfortable bringing up these issues, get the help that they need and be empowered to take control of their sexual and reproductive health,” said the co-founders of Ease Healthcare.
Founded by Rio Hoe and his partner, Ease is a local digital health startup focused on making access to sensitive health services such as birth control, emergency contraception and sexual health consultations more convenient, affordable and discreet.
The platform enables consumers to obtain and renew prescriptions, get medication delivered to their doorstep, obtain advice from medical professionals and learn more about their sexual and reproductive health.
Lowering The Access Barrier For Birth Control Pills
Having personally struggled for years facing stigma or barriers when trying to access sexual and reproductive health services in Singapore, they were inspired to start Ease to revolutionise the sensitive healthcare industry.
Through closed-door discussions and workshops about female sexuality in Yale-NUS College, they found out that many young women also have struggles accessing birth control in Singapore.
Their complaints included the hassle of missing classes or work to go to a clinic for a simple refill, refraining from taking birth control due to the fear of being judged by doctors at the clinic, and receiving unwanted advice when requesting a prescription.
These experiences made us realise the significant barriers to accessing sexual and reproductive health services in Singapore and Asia that exist due to prevailing cultural norms and an existing infrastructure which still relies on face-to-face consultations at clinics.
As a result, people often do not get the help they need due to the stigma, time and cost involved. We felt like these types of healthcare services could easily be facilitated through telemedicine and could be delivered in a more discreet and sensitive manner.– Rio Hoe, co-founder and CFO of Ease Healthcare
With technology, they hope to break down these barriers and revolutionise the ways in which these healthcare services are provided, such that users can conveniently access these services from the comfort of their home.
“Considering the lack of access and stigma surrounding birth control, we felt that this was the right place to start,” said Rio.
“We believe that accessing these types of services should be an empowering experience, not a distressing one, and this is why we created a platform which not just offers access to these services, but provides users with education and support.”
Ease Healthcare currently offers the prescription and delivery of birth control and emergency contraception, as well as sexual health tele-consultations and treatment.
Birth control pills are just a start for them, he stressed, adding that they have plans to expand into other areas of sensitive healthcare, including STD (sexually transmitted diseases) testing and fertility.
They currently offer six different brands of birth control pills, and their birth control delivery service starts from $29.
How It Helps To ‘Ease’ Consumer Painpoints
For Rio, Ease plays an important part in developing a “new healthcare paradigm” that is technology-based and consumer-focused.
The law graduate from the University of Oxford added that they aim to target three painpoints: inconvenience, cost and lack of privacy.
Since the entire process of getting a birth control is tiring and time-consuming, they realised that many people cannot afford to take hours off work or school just to do so.
With Ease, users can have their medication delivered to their doorstep in as little as 24 hours (often on the same day).
All they have to do is fill in a health assessment form and attend a short video consultation with one of our doctors. We transform a process that typically takes hours into a matter of minutes.– Rio Hoe, co-founder and CFO of Ease Healthcare
Moreover, when you consider the total costs for travel, consultation and medication, buying birth control and emergency contraception the traditional way can be quite expensive.
“Because we are digital-based, we are able to keep costs down and charge a price that’s more affordable than what you’d otherwise pay,” added Rio.
Lastly, since clinics can be a “daunting environment”, users can ‘skip’ the clinic with Ease and conveniently access a range of sensitive healthcare services from the comfort and privacy of their homes.
“By addressing each of the (pain)points above, we help users overcome the stigma, and reduce the time and costs typically associated with accessing these services through traditional means,” said Rio.
Aligning With Regulators’ Standards
Ease recently launched in May this year, but it began establishing partnerships with pharmacies, doctors, laboratories and regulators in September 2019.
‘So how was it like getting these partners onboard? Was it hard earning their trust, especially since Ease is still a fledgling startup?’ I ask the co-founders.
“We have had the privilege to work with partners who have, from a very early stage, understood and supported our mission to improve access to sensitive healthcare in Singapore. They have been very willing to come onboard with us to develop a range of products and services to address different sensitive healthcare needs,” they said.
Recounting their first meetings with the Ministry of Health (MOH) and Health Sciences Authority (HSA), they said that it was very positive.
The Ministry of Health has been trying to develop the telemedicine space in Singapore over the past few years. We have been working closely with them since last September to ensure that our platform and growth plans are aligned with the Ministry’s vision of the adoption of telemedicine in Singapore.
We’ve also engaged the Health Sciences Authority very early on to register our at-home STD test kits as medical devices. They have been very helpful in guiding us through the process of manufacturing our kits and ensuring that they comply with existing safety guidelines and regulations.– Rio Hoe, co-founder and CFO of Ease Healthcare
However, the duo said that it remains a challenge to get insurers on board, especially when it comes to sexual and reproductive health services.
“Certain medications, such as birth control pills, are not covered by most insurance policies, even though these may be important to many women in terms of their health and well-being,” they lamented.
Sexual Healthcare Not Seen As An “Essential Service”
Launching a business in the middle of a pandemic might not be a good idea for most, but it has proven to be an opportunity for Ease.
In fact, it was a rather timely launch, considering that sexual and reproductive health was “not considered an essential service by many clinics in Singapore during the COVID-19 circuit breaker and many patients in need of these services were turned away.”
The pandemic has also shifted a lot of attention to telehealth services, and the co-founders believe that the demand for this sector will continue to grow post-COVID-19.
“Telemedicine as a whole allows more people to take control of their health and wellness, something that might have been out of reach for many under the traditional system due to a variety of factors,” said Rio.
While telemedicine is on the rise, the co-founders found it a challenge to build confidence among customers who are first-time users of the tech.
They needed to make sure that consumers understand that the prescription they obtain is from a real doctor (not a bot) and that their medication comes from a reliable source.
To address these concerns, all customers are provided with the name and medical license details of the doctor attending to them once they book an appointment on our platform.
They also receive a copy of the signed prescription, and all our medication contains the label of the retail pharmacy from which it was dispensed.– Rio Hoe, co-founder and CFO of Ease Healthcare
Recruiting doctors who believe in their mission, and have experience in both telemedicine and in sexual and reproductive health was also a challenge.
“We knew from the beginning that in order to offer a comfortable and positive experience to our users, the doctors we work with need to understand the importance of judgement-free consultations, education and guidance, and also need to be sensitive towards these healthcare issues,” said Rio.
“To make sure we found the right doctors, we took a holistic approach towards recruitment that takes into account more than just their medical expertise.”
Today, Ease works with two doctors who issue their prescriptions, attend tele-consultations and advise them on the medical aspects of the business.
What’s Next: STD Testing, Fertility
According to the co-founders, Ease has received “overwhelmingly positive feedback” since its launch.
They added that they have been seeing organic growth on their social media platforms as many users spread the word about their service online.
While they have mostly raised brand awareness through social media, Ease is looking to establish partnerships with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and women’s wellness brands to reach out to more women in Singapore.
As a purely bootstrapped startup, it is also looking for external investments to fuel the business growth.
Sharing more about their future business plans, Ease said that they plan to launch at-home STD test kits and expand to human papillomavirus (HPV) test kits, fertility, and other sensitive healthcare products in the near-term.
In the long run, they plan to diversify their range of product offerings to appeal to all genders and expand to different markets in Asia.
“Our vision is to become the one-stop platform for a wide range of sensitive healthcare needs across the region,” said Rio.
When asked to share a piece of business advice, he said that creating a company and building a brand are two entirely different things
You can be the best at providing a service or building a product, but creating a unique and memorable brand that sticks with consumers and excites them requires a much more holistic approach.
At Ease, we don’t just provide access to a medical service, but also a support system, a community, and an educational platform, so as to create an empowering experience for our users and make them feel understood, supported, and engaged.– Rio Hoe, co-founder and CFO of Ease Healthcare
Featured Image Credit: Ease Healthcare