Passionate about providing access to quality healthcare, Dr Emma Rees founded Femma in 2021 to help patients across Australia find a general practitioners (GP) who specialise in women’s health.
After raising $1 million for software development, Rees spoke to Business News Australia about what’s next for the healthtech, which has garnered 2,000 users since launching in March this year.
Three years ago, Dr Emma Rees couldn’t help but take note that many of the patients visiting her Port Macquarie clinic endured a lengthy trip to see her.
From Melbourne to Brisbane to Narrabri, women closed the distance in order to receive a consultation from the GP, who split her time between the clinic and supervising medical students in practice.
It was during this period that she began to contemplate the possibility of creating a “fully digital” healthcare offering for women that transcended postcodes.
Her idea crystallised with the birth of Femma in September 2021, developed and launched within six months by a small team of health experts and software engineers.
Speaking to Business News Australia, Rees shared what it was like building the platform from the ground up.
“That time [was] spent creating the clinical algorithm, getting our expert panel to review it, then getting it coded into the software and building the whole software platform,” she said.
“I really wanted to look at how I could make it easier for women and also reach more women as well because you're limited to how much time you have [face to face].”
Femma offers three services - the first of which allows women to access the free community, a Q&A forum with experts and an online shop for over-the-counter products to treat health issues such as thrush, acne and bacterial vaginosis.
To generate revenue, the platform also offers a one-time text consultation with a GP specialising in women’s health for a fixed price, and a monthly subscription fee that gives users a personalised health plan and access to exclusive content.
Rees noted that as a relatively new service on the market, most women have been drawn to the former option.
“We're seeing a lot of women do a text-based consultation,” she said.
“I guess that's what we'd expect being a fairly new company. I think women want to explore what we're offering and test the waters a bit.”
With the exception of the Northern Territory, the platform has attracted 2,000 users across Australia - the majority of which are from Victoria and Queensland.
Rees also noted the platform is gaining users from regional areas, where patients typically have the most difficulty finding a GP with expertise in women’s health.
“We have focused on regional markets because that's who we really feel could benefit from this service,” Rees said.
“[Those] areas prioritise doctors with a background in emergency as opposed to a background in women's health because they're often remote and you need to have a range of skills.”
To date, Femma has six doctors providing consultations – all of which are closed within a few days according to Rees.
“As soon as somebody has submitted a consult, we'll be opening up a conversation with them,” she said.
“Sometimes we have a lot of questions that we want to ask an individual patient, sometimes fewer questions. That will affect the timeframe of the consult.
“But usually, they're all opened and closed within 72 hours.”
She also noted the platform is in the thick of developing 12-week education programs that address specific health conditions such as menopause, endometriosis and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).
“The amount of content that we've got in the pipeline that's due to be delivered is huge,” she said.
“People wouldn't necessarily need consultations to access programs. They can go through a program to explore what that condition is [and] what it actually means.
“We want to try and plug that gap between knowledge and how to manage your own condition.”
To add to the platform’s online store – which currently stocks 10 products – Rees is keen to stock Femma’s own vaginal creams and products. However, she noted product development remains in the early stages due to supply chain bottlenecks spurred by COVID-19.
In order to fund such endeavours, the founder is looking to launch a bridging raise in a matter of months. It comes after the platform secured $1 million late in December 2021 and received investment from the Dancing Ledge fund (put together by Dr Martin Blake and Dr Tim Haggett), venture studio More Alive and other private investors.
Blake is an outgoing chairman of Perth Radiological Clinic and an active investor in a number of different start-ups, while Haggett previously sat as the divisional CEO of medical centres at Healius (ASX: HLS).
If all goes according to plan, the upcoming raise would see Femma rollout overseas and expand its development team.
“We're looking at the European market – UK and Ireland are the areas that we're currently in conversations with people around,” Rees said.
“We'll also be looking to expand our team and have more software engineers in-house.
“We're ready to widen out the service as soon as we can - to have the algorithms, code them and make sure we've got the content to support them.”
But for her, the ultimate goal is spreading awareness so that women can make informed choices when it comes to their health.
“Our mission is to really enable access and education for women,” she said.
“I think the digital pathway is fantastic, but shouldn't replace a really good face-to-face service. [What] we really want to be focusing on is either augmenting an existing face-to-face pathway or transcending traditional barriers to health care - such as access.
“[We’re] focusing on how we overcome those barriers and how we can really scale the impact of doctors with specialist women’s health training.”
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