- Dr. Sophia Yen is the CEO and cofounder of Pandia Health, a birth-control-delivery service.
- She told Insider about the tech that could bring equity and higher-quality service to telehealth.
- Yen said she’s optimistic about the potential for AI and machine learning to transform healthcare.
- This article is part of “Fueling Transformation,” a series exploring how leaders are meeting digital-transformation goals without sacrificing the bottom line.
When Dr. Sophia Yen and her cofounders started Pandia Health in 2016, their mission was to provide a model for women’s healthcare that was better, faster, and safer for patients through telehealth — which is, for now, the most accessible way to get care.
Pandia Health is a women-founded and women-led birth-control prescription and delivery service, offering online doctor’s visits to patients across the country. The company operates through what’s known as asynchronous telehealth — a healthcare model where the patient’s information is shared with providers at different points in time through online patient portals, rather than all at once through a live doctor’s visit.
While telemedicine is not new, the social disruptions of the past several years — from remote work to the repeal of Roe v. Wade — have made telehealth an increasingly important option for people who are the most vulnerable to losing access to care. Since it was already well-established when the pandemic hit, Pandia Health was in a strong position to serve patients all over the US who suddenly needed access to virtual care.
As healthcare continues to evolve in a post-pandemic world, Yen told Insider that she intends to continue evolving Pandia Health along with it. At present, she’s investigating how AI, machine learning, and other technological breakthroughs can reshape telehealth for the better and help Pandia Health keep costs down for patients.
Using asynchronous telemedicine to provide more equitable healthcare
As the pandemic disrupted office work around the world in 2020, Yen said her company was able to fully embrace remote work because it already mirrored the structure of the telemedicine business; the company’s network of doctors is spread across the US and organized so that the doctors can tailor their on-call hours to fit their preferred schedules.
“With asynchronous telemedicine, our physicians love it because they can do it anywhere. They could do it on vacation while bicycling across the United States. They could do it when they’re awake at 3 a.m. and they just want to get some stuff done,” she said. “I don’t care what hours you work as long as you get whatever you promise done.”
To be accessible to patients, the company operates seven days a week. “We could cut it off on the weekend, but that’s when people have questions about their birth control, that’s when people have time to deal with that,” she said. “Because we’re women-founded and women-led, we are more cognizant of the need for flexibility and schedules.”
AI and machine learning could improve the reproductive-healthcare experience and cut costs
Yen told Insider the company is keeping an eye on the technological breakthroughs being spurred by generative AI and machine learning. She said the company is considering how these innovations could save patients time and money, but safety and maintaining the quality of care for patients are her primary concerns.
“AI will definitely bring down costs for all patients — telehealth and in person,” she said. “Doctors will be using AI tools in the office and in the hospitals, too — not just online with telemedicine.”
Yen said a long-term goal of the company is to use AI and machine learning to develop an algorithm to help patients better choose a birth control, a menopause treatment, or an acne treatment. “Right now, we’re doing it with a human algorithm based on your body-mass index, based on your age, based on race as a proxy for genetics,” she said.
“We would love to get people’s genetics and pair that with our history of about 30,000 patients and say, ‘Oh, this worked well with this genetic makeup. This is the best birth-control pill for you. This is the best menopause treatment for you. This is the best obesity treatment for you.'”
Yen said one major concern with AI and machine learning is that as a person of color, a lot of the models are trained in medicine where the standard weight is a 154-pound white male. “There are 40 different birth-control pills out there, at least eight different progesterones, two levels of estrogen — so at least 16 different pills,” Yen said.
She said that Pandia Health is encouraging patients to note the different types and levels of hormones in their birth control and work with their doctor to find the combination with the least-disruptive side effects, emphasizing that these medications affect people differently.
“But as we get genetics, it’ll be even better,” she said. “My daughters are Asian, but they’re Taiwanese Korean. And then what if they marry a Black person or a Latino, what will their kids need? So the future is personalized medicine.”
As the company waits for these algorithms to come to fruition, Yen said the company is exploring using a chatbot to answer the most frequently asked questions from patients, potentially saving the company time and money on live customer-service agents. However, she wants to make sure it’s a positive experience for the patient and medically accurate before fully implementing the technology. “We may limit it to only customer service and not health-related questions,” she said.
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