By Charles Platkin, PhD, JD, MPH
What is Tia about for those that haven’t read or heard about it yet?
Tia is the next generation women’s healthcare platform bringing empathy and innovation together to help women thrive. We’re an interdisciplinary team of designers, doctors & data enthusiasts who have seen first-hand how women’s needs have been radically underserved and underestimated, and are on a mission to build a new distinctly female care model from the ground up.
Our ecosystem of products, tools and services — from the Tia app to the Tia Clinic, a real world gynecology & wellness practice opening soon in NYC — are connected by a unique, human-centered approach to care that focuses on listening and learning all about women and their holistic needs, from their anatomy to emotions, from gut health to getting it on. We encourage honest and transparent conversations about your health — both with our Care Team and our community of members — to help you make independent and informed healthcare decisions with confidence and ease. Last but not least, we bring real women (patients and providers) into our making process, and in doing so, are co-creating a new “by women for women” healthcare system that values our unique voices, bodies, and time.
I read that you started “The Vagina Benefits” – what is that about?
The Vagina Benefits is an educational tool we built to help women understand the cost of care and their legal rights to core, preventive healthcare services under the Affordable Care Act. It’s an example of Tia’s role as “translator” for healthcare, making complicated (and often, unsexy things like health insurance) a little bit less complicated for women.
After Trump rolled back the ACA birth control mandate last year, we were inundated with questions from our users about birth control coverage, insurance, and their legal rights as women. As with most things in healthcare, there was no simple answer to this question, but instead a lot of asterisks and “it depends…” type answers. Frustrated by the sheer confusion we saw amongst our users, we decided to build the Vagina Benefits — a riff on the Essential Benefits — to help women understand both their rights today, the implications of this policy change on a state by state basis, as well as what would happen if the ACA were to go away altogether.
You started your career at Google — can you share the skills and knowledge learned from that experience that you use on a day-to-day basis at Tia?
So many things! Over my four years at Google. I spent a lot of time working on next-gen search products, including the Google Assistant, which very much inspired Tia’s women’s health advisor app. I learned a ton about building brands, storytelling, and how to design beautiful consumer products that solve a real problem for people.
But, perhaps most of all, I am most grateful for my time at Google’s Creative Lab in NYC, which taught me about creativity, and how to unlock a part of myself that I didn’t really know existed. It is this creative spirit and approach to problem solving that led me to jump out of the airplane and start Tia, and has since equipped me with a toolkit for thinking outside the box that is quintessential in healthcare and in startups more broadly.
Do you consider yourself a social entrepreneur, can you explain why or why not?
To me, a social entrepreneur is someone who is motivated to solve important problems in the world, and views business and entrepreneurship as a powerful mechanism to do that. It’s more than believing that you can “do good and make money at the same time,” which in my opinion, should be a criteria for starting any business.
Social entrepreneurship is about the scale of problem and the depth of impact, and social entrepreneurs, in my opinion, should be evaluated in accordance to that — in addition to generating returns for their stockholders. You have to do both.
I believe Tia is on a path to solving an important problem in the world for women and if successful, will have a positive impact on our healthcare system and society more broadly. I also believe we have a pathway to become a big and successful business that makes money, which is not a nice-to-have, but a necessary ingredient to sustainability and achieving our mission.
So to answer your question, I aspire to become a social entrepreneur, and believe I am on a pathway to doing so.
You wrote the following: “At a time when women’s health is under attack, investment in new interaction models, new business models, and new care models is more important now than ever.” Can you discuss?
I quit my job to start Tia a couple months before the 2016 election when I thought the world was going one way, and that I would soon be riding the next wave of women’s empowerment in which reproductive rights and women’s rights more broadly would be expanded with Hillary Clinton as President.
Of course, the world went a very different direction, and we are now experiencing a domino effect of implications for women’s health and women’s rights in the U.S. and around the world. With the future of the ACA, Planned Parenthood, and Roe vs. Wade in question, I think the flaws inherent to a largery government-funded “put all your eggs in one basket” model have become increasingly evident. We need to work to support and protect existing players and structures to withstand political ups and downs, while creating alternate ones in parallel.
At Tia, we are making a lot of bets with new staffing models, new revenue models, and new omnichannel, tech-enabled care delivery models in service of giving more women access to higher-quality health care and information. We by no means are isolated from the impact of politics and healthcare policy (we get paid, in large part, through insurance), but as a privately-funded, venture-backed company, we can be more nimble and less-dependent on entrenched players, and as a result, have a responsibility to create more optionality for women.
By spearheading an effort to open more doors and provide real world healthcare services, I hope we can be one of many players working together to safeguard women against a very volatile healthcare and political system that they, for the most part, do not control.
You’re opening a brick and mortar store in NYC. Why? What is going to be unique here? It looks like you will be able to see an MD? Did you think about approaching existing OBGYN offices? Can you talk about brick and mortar and the connection to your cloud-based health app?
When I started Tia, I did not plan on opening brick and mortar women’s healthcare practices. It was always an idea I had — the “if Tia is successful digitally, wouldn’t it be cool to create a real world health clinic?” kind of moonshot in the back of my mind. But within the first six months of launching our first app, the opportunity to vertically-integrate and become a full-stack healthcare provider become strikingly clear, and an imperative “bet the business” decision that I would soon make.
As an information product, the Tia app in many ways was a very “Google-y” approach to solving healthcare: give women better information and tools, and they can get better health care. However, through more than 200,000 1:1 conversations we had with women about their health over the Tia app, we learned that being a loved and trusted information platform that refers women into a subpar healthcare system did not sufficiently fix the problem nor fulfill our mission. We needed to change healthcare delivery, and to do so, we needed to become a care provider ourselves.
It was through these real user insights — and specifically, the demand for Tia not just before and after their doctor, but with their doctor — that led us to to develop Tia Clinic: a modern gynecology and wellness practice designed inside-and-out by and for women. It’s very much the “concept store” for a new omnichannel care model that aims to raise the bar for women’s care everywhere.
With the Tia Clinic, we’ve reimagined what it’s like to go to the doctor with a warm, open and distinctly female experience, and developed a hybrid service model that lets women address their gynecology, wellness, and primary care needs under one roof and one health record. With early morning, evening and weekend hours, and “Tia powered” features like cycle-sharing & chat with a doctor, the Tia Clinic is all about access, convenience and personalization. And with a community element, we are making healthcare something women actually want to engage in not once a year or when something is wrong, but to proactively manage their health.
For patients, the Tia Clinic is “powered by” the Tia app, with Tia serving as your liaison to you Care Team and day-to-day advisor for your health. We’ve also built a second side of our platform for providers called TiaMD that includes an array of clinical decision support and shared-decision making tools that serve to strengthen the patient-provider relationship, and improve care quality at lower-costs.
What do you believe to be the greatest challenges for healthcare? And the greatest opportunities? How do you think technology can help?
I think the greatest challenge in healthcare is two-fold and related: first, aligning incentives — what consumers or patients want, what providers want, and what insurance companies want are all-too-often, not the same. And second, building a new model while keeping the existing one functioning at the same time.
Given the obvious human life impact of healthcare, simply scrapping the current systems and starting over is not an option, however desirable. As a result, I think the biggest challenge both for traditional healthcare players and especially for startups is deciding what to innovate on, what NOT to innovate on, and in what order. When you are constrained for time and resources — and need to account for the human lives that will be impacted by whatever innovations you experiment with — you inevitably have to find the balance of how to work within the current system, at least partially.
As I say to my team, we can’t move fast and break things in healthcare. But, we can move fast and shake things up. However, it gets tricky when your business become partially dependent on an archaic incentive structure that needs to be reworked.
This incentive structure is a problem that I don’t think technology alone, can fix. But I do think that eventually, tech innovations will make certain players and old school parts of these models obsolete.
How do you see health tech help underserved populations?
Democratizing access to information and care. This to me, is one of the most exciting things happening in healthcare right now.
On the flip-side though, we are also seeing how technology alone is not a silver bullet. The companies and programs making the most impact with underserved populations are doing the hard work of fusing technology with real healthcare delivery, policy and social welfare programs that truly address the root problems facing underserved populations.
What is the best advice you have been given?
Make something people want. And when you hit a roadblock or have crippling self-doubt, go talk to those people who want it.
Something you did that helped someone: Start Tia
Something you learned from failure: Don’t try to do everything at once
Something you did that took courage: Bet my business on the Tia Clinic