New investments in Iron Health, Tia and Kindbody mark continued momentum in women's health

Iron Health is a new tech-enabled startup that aims to support obstetricians and gynecologists and their patients by serving as a virtual extension of their practices.

The company, built at healthcare startup creator Redesign Health, developed a collaborative platform to bridge the gaps between OB-GYNs and primary, specialty, behavioral and wellness care providers.

The startup launched with a $4.5 million seed investment round with participation by March of Dimes' innovation fund, the organization's first investment.

“Women across the U.S. are facing healthcare challenges unlike they’ve experienced in decades. Combined with the steadily increasing stress on OB-GYNs, we’re at a critical inflection point,” said Elizabeth Cherot, M.D., senior vice president and chief medical and health officer of March of Dimes, in a statement.

"We selected Iron Health as the first venture investment for the March of Dimes Innovation Fund because their unique value proposition for OB-GYNs and patients complements our mission to improve the health of moms and babies specifically in areas of chronic disease management and mental health.” 

Iron Health’s unique approach allows OB-GYNs to focus on their specialty, while patients benefit from an extended care team and a comprehensive, connected healthcare experience, according to executives.

"We did a lot of looking at the women’s health space, because we knew it was an underfunded space and also that it was not serving women the way they needed to be served," Redesign Venture Chair Lesley Solomon said in an interview. "We did research, interviews with experts, surveys with patients and we learned that women generally trust their OB-GYN more than other doctors that they have."

Redesign Health has built and launched 40 healthcare startups since 2018.

Growing concerns over OB-GYN capacity coupled with a post-Roe landscape have added new layers of complexity to how women access and manage their care.

Recent data indicate that the use of primary care continues to decline. About one-fourth of adults and nearly half of adults under 30 don't have a primary care provider, according to data from Kaiser Family Foundation. OB-GYNs are increasingly expected to serve as three-in-one providers, with nearly 50% of these specialists considering themselves primary care providers and 84% prescribing anxiety and depression medicine to patients knowing many women will not get the treatment they need otherwise

This stress on both providers and patients is only projected to grow, with an expected shortfall of up to 22,000 OB-GYNs by 2050.

But these specialists are facing rising levels of burnout as they take on more aspects of patients' care, noted Stephanie Winans, Iron health founder and CEO.

"OB-GYNs are working harder than they ever have before. They are dealing with what I call, 'Oh, by the way' problems," Winans said. Women typically go to their annual OB-GYN visit and bring up other health problems.

"What happens is patients walk in the door and say, 'Oh, by the way, what about these headaches I'm having or these other issues I’m having?' OB-GYNs are in the position of serving as three-in-one providers; they are doing mental health and primary care," Winans said. "And they are doing it because there are real gaps in the system. They are screening patients and finding mental health needs, but they are not well positioned to address it."

From a business perspective, these specialists need to be practicing at the "top of their license," she noted. "The math does not work, from an economic perspective, from the perspective of an OB-GYN practice, if they are doing lower case value work, like primary care. They have high medical malpractice rates. The math works when they focus more on their specialty, on procedures and deliveries."

Iron Health's solution enables OB-GYNs to leverage a network of multidisciplinary providers to provide patients with timely access to primary and specialty care. Iron Health’s click-and-mortar hybrid model breaks down care silos, providing holistic care for women who want a single medical home centered around their OB-GYN care, according to Winans.

Many digital health solutions are built outside of the existing healthcare system, which can lead to more fragmented care. Iron Health was designed to operate within a woman’s existing care network, executives said.

"We work with OB-GYNs to see where needs are, and they can select where they want to plug us in, whether it's mental health, primary care or they have a lot of pregnant patients and they say, 'I’m worried about postpartum hypertension, can you run a RPM [remote patient monitoring] solution and manage that for me?' It's beyond coordination; it’s full comprehensive care delivery," Winans said.

Each patient benefits from a dedicated Iron Health Care Team of providers that delivers primary care, behavioral health and other healthcare services, conveniently accessible through virtual visits and direct messaging, Winans said.

"When we deliver care, we document in the [electronic heath records], and that allows [the OB-GYNs] to have access to a better picture of what is going on with the patient, and they can see care summaries," she noted.

Along with being a strategic investor, March of Dimes also is a partner to the startup. Leveraging March of Dimes’ clinical experts, research, educational content and market reach, Iron Health can create more immediate and scalable social impact that improves the health outcomes and care gaps for all women, executives said.

Iron Health is launching its services in direct partnership with OB-GYN practices and healthcare systems.

Venture capital-backed women's health continues to gain momentum, despite a downturn in the fundraising market. And these startups are attracting unique backers.

Melinda French Gates’ Pivotal Ventures recently invested an undisclosed amount in women's health startup Tia, Fast Company reported. Founded in 2017 by Carolyn Witte and Felicity Yost, Tia is building what it calls a "modern medical home for women." The startup has women's health clinics New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Phoenix.

Women today are facing a triple threat to their health: a primary care shortage, a mental health epidemic and a reproductive health crisis, Witte said in a statement to Fierce Healthcare.

"With 60% of reproductive-aged women not having a primary care provider, American women go without or delay essential, preventive care, or they overuse or misuse speciality care. As a result, costs go up and outcomes get worse," she said. "In mental health, women don't have access to enough sex-specific approaches, and the system often fails to connect the dots between a woman's physical and mental health."

The maternal mortality rate in the U.S. continues to exceed the rate in other high-income countries, data show.

"Too many women die after giving birth and leaving the hospital, a problem that's even worse for women of color. Black women specifically die at 3x the rate of white women during and post-pregnancy. Given these immense threats, it was imperative that Tia's supporters are aligned with our values, and that's what we found in Pivotal Ventures, a Melinda French Gates company," Witte said. "We're incredibly grateful for their team's support and we look forward to transforming the healthcare experience for women all across the country."

Fertility-focused startup Kindbody also is reaping the benefits of investor interest in women's health. The company recently banked $100 million in fresh capital, raising its valuation to $1.8 billion.

The company, which operates fertility clinics and provides family-building benefits for employers, hit unicorn status last February when it acquired Vios Fertility Institute, a deal that propelled it to a $1.15 billion valuation, according to Kindbody executives.