The following is a transcript of an interview by Oriana Kraft with Lina Chan, Founder and CEO of Parla, a digital health platform putting data and knowledge back in women’s hands so they can be an informed agent in managing their own bodies proactively.
Can you describe in your own words what Parla does?
Parla is a digital health platform helping communities of women with specific fertility challenges connect with experts and each other to find the support they need.
Could you elaborate on how women connect with these experts and the communities?
There is no one-size fits all approach. The way women connect with their issues in fertility is inherently specific to their own pain points. It’s dependent on what the origin of their fertility struggles are. For example, many women with PCOS or Endometriosis end up struggling with their fertility. Other women may have faced multiple pregnancy losses during their fertility journey. What each woman needs can be very different and personal. As FemTech evolves – and we’ve already started to see that happen – there will inherently be more start-ups targeting very specific pain points (such as PCOS or Endometriosis-related infertility) because it connects with the user and their user journey a lot more.
Do you have specific fertility streams in Parla?
When we initially launched Parla we started it off as supporting women with any fertility struggle they had, but when COVID came we began to understand that our users bucket around certain pain points. One big category we have for example is pregnancy loss, another is PCOS and another major one is Endometriosis.
That’s why one of the main projects we launched last year are courses to specifically target how to manage the symptoms of these specific pain points. For example, for pregnancy loss how to manage the emotional distress that comes with pregnancy loss. We also have nutrition and lifestyle interventions to manage PCOS.
How do you see Parla personalizing women’s healthcare experience?
When women come to us we do a lengthy onboarding questionnaire so that afterwards the content they see is personalized to them. If we know the women faced pregnancy loss in the past then the they wind up seeing a lot more content around mental health support. A women with PCOS will get a lot more content around period health and lifestyle intervention for instance.
Why do you perform these interventions in a community format?
There’s an emerging body of research that supports grouping women in cohorts for long-term support. They learn just as much from each other as from the expert.
You wouldn’t believe the amount of ‘aha’ moments women have where they hear each other’s stories. They often think they are alone but then realise others have had similar experiences. With both our pregnancy loss courses and period health courses we ask women to make everyday changes to their lifestyle and the fact that they meet with experts and each other every week makes them much more likely to actually try the change and stick to it.
You mentioned you offer pregnancy loss courses. You are one of the few startups we came across that offer support for pregnancy loss. Why do you think there’s been such a lack of innovation in that respect when it’s so common?
Probably because it’s one of the biggest taboos we have in our society. I mean if you take a step back to untangle it: the twelve-week rule is crazy* (*The Twelve-week rule is the unwritten rule that says you should not share your pregnancy news until you hit the 12-week mark, the point at which most pregnancies are considered safe and likely to be successful).
Yes, that’s when the highest rates of miscarriage happen. But look at it from the reverse perspective, if someone has been taught to shut out their entire support system in the first twelve weeks that makes them even more vulnerable if they do miscarry because they can’t go to someone and tell them they’re struggling if they never told them they were pregnant in the first place.
We also just don’t talk about miscarriages. When you learn about Sex in Sex Ed we don’t talk about how precarious the first trimester is. We don’t say that one in four pregnancies end in miscarriage. This is not just a Femtech revolution – we need a societal revolution. This is a missed opportunity for innovation in women’s health because it has such an impact on physical and mental health. The medical community needs to realize this is a big issue that impacts women years later. No one ever prepares you to think about death when you are trying to conceive. But unfortunately the rates of pregnancy loss are high and increasing as women choose to have children later.
And there’s also a lot of misconception around pregnancy loss in general. We tend to think of it as being exclusively miscarriages but abortion is also pregnancy loss, having to terminate for medical reasons is also pregnancy loss, stillbirth is also pregnancy loss. It’s a risk category when it comes to mental health.
How do you see Parla evolving in the future?
When I launched Parla one of my main goals was to help women be more proactive about their health. As a platform we want to start flagging things that might be of consequence for the future. So even if we’re a fertility platform we start talking about things like menopause. We have information about the general stages they might be dealing with down the line. We start flagging other things they might want to look out for: from nutrition to lifestyle.
Reproductive health is so siloed in our society. And yet there are so many interdependencies: women who have issues with pregnancy and infertility tend to have poorer health and mental health outcomes later on. At Parla we firmly believe in the intersection of physical and mental health.
Innovations like Parla’s digital communities that help women feel less alone in their fertility journey are why we need Femtech. (And a FemTech Summit like this one of course). Want to hear more about how digitising the fertility journey could be key to providing more holistic care for women everywhere? Sign up for the 2022 femtech conference here.