Maternity startup Oula expands virtual pregnancy care between office visits

Oula, a maternity center that combines obstetrics with midwifery, has expanded its virtual care options to modernize care for expectant mothers.

Offering a hybrid of clinical care, Oula has an office in Brooklyn, New York and also sees patients via telehealth.

The foundation behind Oula is that most of the pregnancy’s physical and mental care takes place between provider visits, so the platform allows expectant mothers to easily reach out to the medical team. The platform can also offer telehealth appointments for more than half of the regularly scheduled prenatal visits.

Some of the latest virtual features include “messaging a midwife” for questions via a mobile app or “care plan builder,” which helps patients make key decisions regarding their pregnancy. In addition, the app offers appointment planning and mental check-ins.

Oula co-founders Adrianne Nickerson and Elaine Purcell launched the startup in 2019 with the idea of building a maternity clinic around a collaborative care model.

In October 2020, the startup raised $3.2 million in seed funding led by the Collaborative Fund. Female Founders Fund, 8VC, Metrodora, Kapor Capital, Rock Health, January Ventures, and Great Oaks along with prominent healthcare operators including Tom Lee, founder of One Medical and Kate Ryder, founder & CEO of Maven Clinic, also participated in the round.

Oula maternity clinic (Oula)

While Oula opened the doors to its clinic in Brooklyn early in 2021, the expansion of the virtual platform was inevitable given the COVID-19 pandemic and the trajectory of technology-backed healthcare.  

RELATED: Ro acquiring Modern Fertility to expand women’s health offerings

According to Oula’s Chief Experience Officer Joanne Schneider DeMeireles, prenatal care hasn't changed much in almost 100 years. Meaning, patients traditionally visit a clinic between 12 and 14 times over the course of nine months, with limited interaction with the clinical team between visits and minimal support during postpartum.

“The goal with our technology was to fundamentally shift away from this transactional, one-size-fits-all model of care to one that meets women where they are,” Schneider DeMeireles told Fierce Healthcare. “We started off with what we consider ‘table stakes’ features of online: scheduling, messaging and access to test results that are the foundation of continuous care.”

Schneider DeMeireles says that Oula developed its continuity of care system based on working closely with OB/GYN patients.

“That being said—when building this hybrid solution, we made it a priority to enable two-way communication between patients and their care teams,” she said. “Traditionally, pregnancy care is focused on what happens during clinical appointments, but most of the physical and mental experience happens in between those appointments.”

For example, the platform’s “message a midwife” feature allows patients to directly reach midwives with questions—from blood test results to insurance—so that women don’t need to wait until their next appointment to get answers.

Another best practice the Oula team learned by working with patients is the need for education and evidence-based guidance during the pregnancy planning process.

“We really honed in on the educational features within our portal to support confident, informed decision-making processes for patients. Specifically, incorporating birth education around the different stages of labor, and coping and comfort techniques—our platform really helps our patients organize what they need to be thinking about when,” Schneider DeMeireles said.

Additionally, there is a care-building feature that guides patients through their decision-making process by laying out questions for consideration: Does the patient want genetic screenings? Does she want to hire a doula? Does she plan to breastfeed?

“We believe it’s critical to equip patients with the knowledge needed for them to forge their own unique pregnancy paths,” Schneider DeMeireles added.

RELATED: 1 in 3 women on Medicaid lack coverage before, after pregnancy

Schneider DeMeireles says that the COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced that women have vastly different preferences when it comes to their pregnancies and giving birth. 

“Some women may be reluctant to have more in-person visits for increased fear of COVID-19 exposure, and we can support that through our online platform with telehealth appointments and remote monitoring tools,” she said. “This is also where Oula’s business model aligns well with the direction of healthcare, which is driving towards more virtual care and digital integration.”

Oula also provides remote patient monitoring and check-ins to support patients' mental health.

“This is especially important during the fourth trimester and postpartum, so our care team uses these remote ‘check-ins’ to continue supporting mothers after the baby has arrived—particularly throughout those critical first weeks,” Schneider DeMeireles said.

Oula recently announced its first hospital partnership with Mount Sinai West. The hospital will host Oula patient deliveries, providing a midwifery approach to birth combined with the resources of top medical expertise. Patients will receive full access to the hospital’s specialists while remaining under the care of Oula’s medical team for non-surgical births.

RELATED: Advantia Health opens new integrated care center for women

“Our partnership with Mount Sinai West is the perfect fit given our shared vision for offering a low intervention approach to low-risk patients, as well as our team’s prior experience working at this hospital,” Ila Dayananda, M.D., Oula medical director and chief clinical operations officer, said in a press release.

In the next five years, Oula has plans to further expand its maternal reach. The company will open a birth center near Mount Sinai West to provide an alternative for those looking for a safe option outside of the hospital setting.

As more conversations continue around the need for increased positive birth delivery experiences, Oula envisions midwife involvement becoming more normalized among pregnancy providers.

“Considering the elevating importance of maternal mental health, as a result of pandemic-caused stress this past year—we hope to see the national healthcare system take more of a holistic approach by accommodating mental and physical needs throughout pregnancy care,” Schneider DeMeireles said.

She added, “This is a core aspect of Oula’s collaborative care model, as our team works with patients to navigate various supportive providers for services such as nutrition and lactation counseling, doula care, group therapy, etc. We hope to see others in the healthcare space provide patients with more affordable and accessible options for these types of services—and as a result, reduce our country’s alarming maternal mortality and healthy birth rates.”