How Hims & Hers built a business entirely centered on telehealth

Photo: Hims & Hers

Hims & Hers has grown rapidly across both of its lines – for men and for women – supporting care for many conditions that patients often feel uncomfortable talking about, including sexual health, mental health, contraception and hair loss. One of the big keys to the company's success has been telehealth.

Melissa Baird, COO at Hims & Hers, leads a team of engineers that designed a telehealth experience that engages and connects patient care across its service lines, especially for stigmatized conditions. 

Baird and the team have gone to great lengths to ensure that every part of the telehealth encounter leaves the customer feeling safe and secure while inspiring confidence. Under her leadership, Hims & Hers was able to stand up multiple services during the pandemic, as well. Early in the pandemic, the company launched mental health and primary care service lines.

Healthcare IT News sat down with Baird to discuss the company's unique brand of telehealth and how she and her team have developed the technology for a winning endeavor.

Q. What was the strategy behind incorporating full-blown telemedicine into your business?

A. Telemedicine has always been at the core of Hims & Hers' business. It's the concept that got us off the ground and in front of consumers since the get-go.

While fleshing out our business prior to launch, we realized consumers are inundated with products advertising support for a healthful lifestyle, but there is little scientific evidence backing most of them. It was then we recognized that we wanted to do something that helped in a real way – providing high-quality digital health services via real, seasoned medical professionals as well as affordable and effective products that are backed by science.

We began by helping people tackle hair loss and sexual health, as these are common conditions that cause social anxiety and can be embarrassing to talk about with someone, even a doctor. In fact, we found these terms to be health issues that were commonly searched on the internet as people craved more information, but also wanted to do so in private.

We knew there are real, effective treatment options on the market for these conditions, so we looked to find a better way to educate folks about them and a more convenient way to get them treatment. 

Even from the first week of launch, we understood that we had hit a nerve with the general public (in a good way). Our business took off immediately, and we were more driven than ever to continue helping people access care and education in a different, more convenient and welcoming way.

While we began with only providing care and treatment for two conditions, it required an immense amount of work on the back-end. We started from nothing and had to build our own system, platform and capabilities to be able to provide high-quality telemedicine services that we believed would change the game of accessing healthcare.

In order to facilitate compliant patient/provider connections, we had to incorporate all of the privacy and regulatory components and quality structures to provide telemedicine, which is required whether you're treating for hair loss or a sinus infection. 

Our way of doing so has proven to be a core competency of ours, enabling us to expand into other treatment areas that can also benefit from the smoother, more personalized telehealth experience.

Q. You are responsible for engineering at the company. You have gone to great lengths to ensure that every part of a telehealth encounter leaves a customer feeling safe and secure, while inspiring confidence. How have you accomplished this, and why is it important?

A. Everything we do at Hims & Hers and every move we make as a business is always with consumers top-of-mind. 

Our vision and passion is ultimately to help more people access personalized care and treatment via a high-quality, convenient and welcoming setting. Therefore, it's true we take patient safety and privacy incredibly seriously and prioritize making them feel good about receiving care through our platform.

To receive medical care from licensed healthcare professionals, patients must provide personal data such as their medical history. On the Hims & Hers platform, all patient data is encrypted in motion and at rest, and is SOC2 compliant. We follow HIPAA guidelines and employ strict access controls.

In addition, our medical providers have adopted a robust quality program to ensure high-quality provider-patient interactions, adherence to evidence-based guidelines, and consistency of information. Our content and blog articles are also regularly reviewed by the medical team for accuracy and are updated if needed.

We have a loyal base of customers who come to us, trusting that we'll match them with a quality provider, give them accurate information, and keep their data safe and secure. To us, these are seen as table stakes in healthcare since, after all, people are trusting you with their health.

What we've taken as our own, to provide an amazing and unique healthcare experience, resides in our customer flow, patient intake, provider interaction and follow-up processes. These were all intentionally built to educate and inspire people to take care of themselves, and to feel confident that the care that they are receiving is safe and equal to, or greater than, what they would get in a traditional doctor's office.

Q. In addition to sexual health, contraception and hair loss, the pandemic led you to forge into mental health and primary care. How are those two businesses going, and what did you have to do differently with telehealth to address these two types of care?

A. Both mental health and primary care services were always on our business road map. The pandemic, with its sudden acute need, simply pulled those initiatives up in the timeline. 

By the spring of 2020 we had built a robust platform connecting thousands of patients each day to hundreds of providers, all digitally. We knew we were uniquely positioned to help with the emerging situation.

First we launched primary care. The rationale was if we could take some burden off of the traditional healthcare system, it would have more bandwidth to focus on COVID-19 patients. It would also keep people that needed to see a provider for something routine, such as a sinus infection or bug bite, from being exposed to COVID-19 inside of a medical facility.

We launched that service exceptionally quickly, in a matter of days, and provided the service at cost. A large portion of our existing provider network was family practice and trained in general medicine, so they were well-qualified to treat primary care conditions.

What was different was the delivery mechanisms of both the service and the medications, which we luckily were able to figure out quickly to relieve brick-and-mortar hospitals and clinics. Now, a patient can speak with a provider in a number of different ways (phone, video, text) across dozens of conditions and, if needed, have a prescription sent to a pharmacy of the patient's choice.

Mental health, while also on the road map, became such an acute need in 2020 that we worked non-stop to build it quicker than planned. While there is some overlap, mental health services have some different procedures, and a different type of provider base is required. It was definitely more challenging than bringing primary care services to the platform.

With that said, this is a fast-growing business within our company. We are still continuing to build it out in full, but today we offer psychiatry services in 44 states, therapy services in 32 states, and free online support group sessions led by a mental health or wellness professional.

Q. What does the future of telehealth look like to you, especially after the pandemic at some point recedes?

A. The pandemic forced nearly all of us to rethink how we do things in life. Simple tasks we took for granted were suddenly impossible, and we had to adopt a different approach – going to work, grocery shopping and visiting the doctor.

Telehealth was already gaining popularity pre-pandemic as a more convenient alternative to a brick-and-mortar healthcare experience. The pandemic, I believe, by requiring many to leverage the technology, has accelerated telehealth adoption by decades. 

I've heard from many people who tried telehealth for the first time and feel like it's a miracle to be able to simply chat with a provider from home versus the onerous in-person experience.

Providers, too, are realizing the conveniences associated with providing digital care, in that they have more freedom to control their schedules, the ability to help more people, etc. I envision telehealth being a first stop for people not seeking urgent or emergency care, and don't see Americans reverting back to a brick-and-mortar experience if it's not necessary.

The most exciting thing is that we are just now scratching the surface of what this could mean for health overall. Telehealth reduces cost, lowers patient time commitment, reduces embarrassment, unhinges geography from access to experts, and reduces provider burnout. All of those elements are the recipe for more and earlier patient interactions with healthcare providers.

With more and earlier access, providers can catch warning signs earlier. And capabilities continue to expand as the market grows and businesses innovate and diagnostic, testing and treatment tools are reimagined with at-home telehealth in mind.

While many conditions still need to be addressed in person, these new capabilities will unlock treatment to more and more of them. Ultimately, the more often a human can interact with an expert in human health, the healthier we will be as a population of humans. And this is just the beginning.

Historically, moments of mass crisis have also proven to be moments of revolution and innovation. The 2008 economic crisis spurred the sharing economy. The Cold War birthed the internet and email. World War II was the first time penicillin was manufactured en masse.

Telehealth – and its benefits – in my opinion, will be one of the greatest innovations of this pandemic, and it will be benefiting us long after we're explaining what things used to be like to our great-grandchildren.

Twitter: @SiwickiHealthIT
Email the writer: [email protected]
Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.

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