Telemedicine by Moms for Moms

Getting mothers the care they need.

July 22, 2021  |   by Avantika Pathak

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Among comparably developed countries, American women are most likely to die from childbirth.1

In spite of the United States spending more on hospital-based maternity care than any other country, the maternal mortality rate in the U.S. has been increasing steadily since 2000. More than half of these pregnancy-related deaths occur after a child is born.1,2 Meaning that 50% of deaths occur within one year from childbirth and are due to a pregnancy complications.

 

However, two-thirds of these deaths are considered preventable, and women of color are disproportionately affected.2 This blatant disparity in the maternal mortality rate is due in part to social factors and limited access to high-quality health information, services, and medical providers.2,3

 

Sonder Health is actively responding working to address this maternal mortality crisis by identifying and addressing gaps in healthcare faced by women in underrepresented communities. Sonder Health provides evidence-based telehealth solutions and services to providers to help them expand patient access to necessary holistic care, including nutrition, lactation, and behavioral health.

EXHIBIT 1

The Birth of Sonder Health

The idea for Sonder Health was born of co-founders’ Dr. Silvia Romm and Lauren Majors thought leadership in 2015. Dr. Romm, a pediatrician, and Lauren Majors, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), experienced breastfeeding challenges and knowing where to find help. They also observed new mothers struggling with access to care while working for multiple healthcare systems. These experiences led them to envision a female-centric telemedicine platform as the solution. Shortly after that, they brought Michele Behme, RN, the current CEO, onboard as an executive advisor to help launch the company.

“Dr. Romm has two children, and Lauren and I have three, and we all recognized that there are no systems in place for moms like us. So we built a platform to support women and their families based on our personal experiences. Essentially, we are a platform made by moms for moms.”

—-Michele Behme, CEO, Sonder Health

Addressing Maternal Healthcare Holistically

25% of women receive prenatal care late, and those never receiving prenatal care face a five times higher likelihood of pregnancy-related deaths.1 Thus, increasing access to prenatal care plays a crucial role in overcoming maternal health disparities in the U.S.1 Sonder Health strives to go beyond telehealth lactation consultations to offer services to support women’s overall health and wellness before, during, and after their pregnancy. For example, they understand that women in the U.S. are not only more likely to have multiple chronic conditions but are also at a higher rate of emotional distress.4 

EXHIBIT 2

To help women address these issues early on, they have curated a network of diverse healthcare professionals through strategic partnerships, including registered dietitians and behavioral health specialists. For example, expectant mothers with comorbidities, like diabetes, are offered nutritional support by a registered dietitian, while mothers experiencing postpartum depression are referred to a behavioral health specialist. Overall, the platform’s referral services, tools, and resources help providers increase access, focus on prevention, manage chronic disease, reduce hospital readmissions, and improve quality scores.

“We want to be a one-stop-shop healthcare platform that ensures mom is having a healthy pregnancy and beyond. Our mission is to help providers leverage technology to expand their clinical services so that they can improve patient access to life-changing care!”

—Michele Behme, CEO, Sonder Health

A Telemedicine Platform Like No Other

Sonder Health’s vendor-neutral approach and the team’s vast healthcare and healthcare IT experience truly differentiate the platform from other telemedicine providers on the market. They offer versatile clinical delivery services that can plug and play on top of any telemedicine technology. Consequently, clinics do not need to buy their technology to use their services because they integrate seamlessly into any telemedicine platform. Alternatively, they also provide their own telemedicine platform and go the extra mile to optimize EHR integration, increase utilization, and maximize patient outreach. They also offer advisory services to help set up a safe, secure, private telemedicine platform and work out any operational workflow issues. 

“Some organizations will only work with you if you are on their platform, but we can work with any partner in any healthcare system. We understand that provider workflows differ across health systems, which services are reimbursable, and the importance of interoperability and EHR integration.”

—Michele Behme, CEO, Sonder Health

Countering a Lack of Coverage

As a female-led telemedicine platform, Sonder Health is uniquely designed to empower women as mothers and caregivers. Behme and her team acknowledge that in America, women often take on the role of the chief medical officer at home. As a result, they regularly make critical medical decisions for family members while frequently overlooking their own healthcare needs. With Sonder Health, Behme wants to help women recognize and voice their healthcare concerns sooner by making it easier for women to access the care they need when they need it. For example, the platform connects mothers with lactation experts and IBCLCs who can provide essential breastfeeding support and promptly address any issues the mother may encounter.5

EXHIBIT 3

Many new moms have conditions that require long-term follow-up care for both their physical and mental health.6 However, moms frequently lose either Medicaid or private insurance coverage shortly following childbirth denying them critical postpartum care.6 Postpartum care generally involves chronic condition management, access to family planning, breastfeeding guidance, and general follow-up on recovery from childbirth.7 For example, there is considerable variation in how states cover lactation support and counseling, with most states only covering lactation consultant services in the hospital setting.8 Recognizing that 2.2 million women live in maternity care deserts and another 4.8 million living in counties with limited access to maternity care, Sonder Health has primed itself to help mothers in need.9 They are diligently partnering with physicians and hospitals in rural areas to provide good quality telemedicine care without exacerbating the costs. 

 

Despite the variation in critical pre- and postpartum coverage and frequent changes in billing for telemedicine services, Sonder Health has been quick to pivot and adapt its service offering to patient needs while keeping abreast of policy changes.8,10 This has been especially critical during the COVID-19 pandemic, given the pandemic bore a hefty toll on women juggling work with caregiver responsibilities and motherhood.11 They have been agile in their partnerships and the services they provided, offering free services at the beginning of the pandemic to ease provider and patient burden. In addition, Behme explained how they worked closely with organizations that had to shorten their timeline for telemedicine implementation suddenly. They also expanded their services to meet the growing need for behavioral health and other women’s health services while maintaining exceptional quality, minimal turnover, and wait times of less than three minutes. 

“The expansion and acceptance of telemedicine are one of the rare silver linings of this pandemic. For example, one of our clinical studies found that 41% of women who accessed our services would not have otherwise received them and that many of them chose to access our services off-business hours.”

—Michele Behme, CEO, Sonder Health

Women’s Health Tech Challenge (WHTC) and Beyond

Rhia Ventures selected Sonder Health’s novel maternal healthcare telemedicine platform to receive a $5,000 (USD) award from more than 100 applicants representing 24 countries at the WHTC. The mission of the WHTC is to identify and accelerate technologies that address unmet needs in women’s health. The Challenge is an essential element of The Women’s Health Tech Initiative, which aims to drive women’s health innovation through events, mentorship, networking, and thought leadership. For Behme, having the work that they are doing for the underserved community recognized and appreciated by the powerful women at Rhia Ventures was incredibly empowering.

“It is a breath of fresh air to work with professional women who not only have a financial interest in our organization but who understand our mission! Instead of having to explain Sonder Health’s purpose and why it was necessary, our conversations focused on the execution plan and what resources we needed.”

—Michele Behme, CEO, Sonder Health

The funding and newfound relationship with Rhia Ventures have given Behme and her team a unique opportunity to reach out to more women, expand their network, and further develop their growth strategy. More importantly, it supports their work beyond the local provider by giving them the recognition to influence change at the national and state level through their involvement with the Women, Infants, and Children’s (WIC) Program. Behme added that the Sonder Health team is also actively involved with the policy and membership committees of rural health and hospital associations. For example, Majors sits on the board of the Indiana Breastfeeding Coalition (IBC) and the Indiana Breastfeeding Alliance (IBA) that helps set the 5-year plan for the state’s breastfeeding plan.

 

"Given Rhia's commitment to addressing health inequities in maternal health, Sonder Health stood out to us because of its focus on serving Medicaid and underserved communities. We were impressed with the management team's vision to develop such an inclusive platform for new moms."

—-Elizabeth Bailey, Managing Director, RH Capital

Finally, to support their overarching goal of wellness, Behme is actively spearheading partnerships with other companies in women’s health. One of the organizations they have partnered with focuses on wellness for employer groups and food as a medicine. This partnership offers services that supplement the recommendations made by their registered dieticians by facilitating lifestyle changes. Interested in providing asynchronous care, they are also on the verge of entering a joint market venture with a behavioral VR company that focuses on the mother and her spouse’s mental health during the perinatal period.

“We strive to continue to be at the forefront of change in telemedicine with the singular goal of providing healthcare solutions that help women and their families thrive.”

—Michele Behme, CEO, Sonder Health

Engage with emerging innovations and leaders in women’s health tech by joining HITLAB’s Women’s Health Tech Initiative today and learn how you can contribute to and advance the revolutionary world of FemTech!

About the Author

Avantika Pathak is pursuing a doctorate in pharmacy at the USC School of Pharmacy.

  1. Maternal Health in the United States. Maternal Health Task Force. Accessed June 6, 2021. https://www.mhtf.org/topics/maternal-health-in-the-united-states/
  2. Melillo G. US Ranks Worst in Maternal Care, Mortality Compared With 10 Other Developed Nations. AJMC. 2020 Dec. Accessed June 6, 2021. https://www.ajmc.com/view/us-ranks-worst-in-maternal-care-mortality-compared-with-10-other-developed-nations
  3. Racial and Ethnic Disparities Continue in Pregnancy-Related Deaths. CDC. 2019 Sept. Accessed June 6, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2019/p0905-racial-ethnic-disparities-pregnancy-deaths.html
  4. Gunja MZ, Tikkanen R, Seervai S, Collins SR. What Is the Status of Women’s Health and Health Care in the U.S. Compared to Ten Other Countries? The Commonwealth Fund. 2018 Dec. Accessed June 6, 2021. https://www.commonwealthfund.org/publications/issue-briefs/2018/dec/womens-health-us-compared-ten-other-countries
  5. Herold RA, Bonuck K. Medicaid IBCLC Service Coverage following the Affordable Care Act and the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services Update. J Hum Lact. 2016 Feb;32(1):89-94. 
  6. Waddill K. Longer Postpartum Medicaid Coverage Prevents Maternal Uninsurance. Health Payer Intelligence. 2020 May. Accessed June 6, 2021. https://healthpayerintelligence.com/news/longer-postpartum-medicaid-coverage-prevents-maternal-uninsurance
  7. Optimizing Postpartum Care. ACOG. 2018 May. Accessed June 6, 2021. https://www.acog.org/clinical/clinical-guidance/committee-opinion/articles/2018/05/optimizing-postpartum-care
  8. Gifford K, Walls J, Ranji U, Salganicoff A, Gomez I. Medicaid Coverage of Pregnancy and Perinatal Benefits: Results from a State Survey. Kaiser Family Foundation. 2017 Apr. Accessed June 6, 2021. https://www.kff.org/report-section/medicaid-coverage-of-pregnancy-and-perinatal-benefits-survey-results/
  9. Bean M. 2.2 million women live in ‘maternity care deserts,’ report finds. Becker’s Hospital Review. 2020 Sept. Accessed June 6, 2021. https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/patient-flow/2-2-million-women-live-in-maternity-care-deserts-report-finds.html
  10. Managing Patients Remotely: Billing for Digital and Telehealth Services. ACOG. 2020 Oct. Accessed June 6, 2021. https://www.acog.org/practice-
    management/coding/coding-library/managing-patients-remotely-billing-for-digital-and-telehealth-services
  11. Fraser D. International Women’s Day: Women’s work during the pandemic. BBC. 2021 Mar. Accessed June 6, 2021. https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-56318364

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