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Australia launches first AI health assistant for women

Ovum promises to help women manage and improve their health and better understand their bodies

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Dr Ariella Heffernan-Marks, founder and CEO of Ovum

The Australian health management app Ovum has entered its pilot phase as it looks to “reshape” women’s health by closing the gender health gap.

Ovum seeks to develop Australia’s first-ever longitudinal AI women’s data set with the aim to address the gender health gap and transform how women experience healthcare.

The app, which promises to help users manage and improve their health and better understand their bodies, is set to become Australia’s first holistic AI health assistant for women.

More than three million Australian women use apps for reproductive health and fertility. However, Ovum claims to be the only one looking at women’s health holistically.

“Existing AI can perpetuate bias in healthcare outcomes for women,” said Dr Ariella Heffernan-Marks, founder and CEO of Ovum.

“Ensuring that our AI is women-centric and draws from a diverse dataset is essential to its effectiveness and the impact it will have on our users.”

The app, developed over four years, integrates and stores a wide range of medical records, including blood tests, imaging reports, and referrals.

It features functions that allow users to ask questions and track health issues, which are particularly useful for women with complex or chronic conditions, where diagnosis can take years.

“One in two women navigate a chronic health issue in Australia and by leveraging the power of AI, our bespoke personal health assistant works to understand and empower women with resources and confidence to manage their health over their lifetime,” Dr Heffernan-Marks explained.

“Women’s health has systemically been underfunded and under-represented, and with women being under or misdiagnosed, my vision is to create an accessible resource that is designed with women, for women.”

She said: “I have witnessed firsthand the discrimination and overlooking the healthcare system does when it comes to women’s gender, age, sexuality, disability, migration status and especially income as we face a cost of living crisis. This was a driving force behind the development of Ovum, to create a more even playing field.

“I am so delighted to reach this milestone in our journey at Ovum, and for women’s health in Australia.”

Associate professor Susan Evans, gynaecologist and co-founder of the Pelvic Pain Foundation of Australia, added: “Women with pelvic pain have a wide range of symptoms that vary over time and can be particularly confusing for those affected.

“Pelvic pain is an area that has been under-researched, under-managed and under-resourced. Women recognise this and a high proportion have a strong altruistic wish to improve care and contribute to improved knowledge in this area.

“For these reasons, the Pelvic Pain Foundation of Australia welcomes the innovation proposed by Dr Ariella Heffernan-Marks. Her proposed app combines benefits to the user with their desire to have their data used for the benefit of scientific knowledge and others affected by pain. This app represents something truly new in the app space.”

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‘Groundbreaking’ endometriosis study identifies patient priorities

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A “groundbreaking” study into endometriosis has identified three areas for future research that can help improve the outcomes for women with the condition.

The study, commissioned by Endometriosis New Zealand, attracted 1,262 participants, including 1,024 people with confirmed endometriosis, making it the largest ever study involving endometriosis patients and supporters in New Zealand.

Study participants identified the management and treatment of endometriosis, the need for a better understanding of its cause and improvements to diagnostic capability as the three main priorities for further research.

While these findings provide a clear pathway for future work, Endometriosis New Zealand chief executive, Tanya Cooke, said endometriosis research had historically been underfunded.

“With an estimated 120,000 New Zealanders living with endometriosis, much more needs to be invested into finding solutions,” Cooke explained.

“The reality is the outcomes for many endometriosis patients are pretty poor, with diagnosis often taking many years and treatment patchy across the country.”

Estimates based on Australian data suggest that endometriosis is likely to be costing New Zealand somewhere in the range of $1.3-1.5bn annually through increased healthcare costs and lost workforce productivity.

Cooke said: “The good news is that our findings align closely with those in Australia and provide three clear priorities for future research – improved treatment options, causation and better diagnostic capability.

“What New Zealand now requires is proper funding for a future research programme that can investigate these priorities more closely and improve the outcomes for individuals living with endometriosis.”

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Virtual care platform secures US$46m to address US maternal health crisis

Pomelo Care will use the funding to scale its care model and improve maternal and infant outcomes

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Marta Bralic Kerns, founder and CEO of Pomelo Care

The US virtual maternity care platform Pomelo Care has secured US$46m in funding to address the US maternal health crisis.

One in 10 babies born in the US today start their life in a neonatal intensive care unit.

Healthcare access continues to worsen, with one in eight births occurring in US counties with limited-to-no access to maternal care. Due to significant gaps in postpartum care, about half of pregnancy-related deaths in the US occur after hospital discharge.

The evidence exists for how to identify people at highest risk for complications and which interventions are most effective, but existing data gaps and provider capacity challenges make it difficult to apply these interventions at scale.

Pomelo has developed a care model that aims to address these challenges by analysing claims and health record data to identify individual risk factors and providing virtual pregnancy, postpartum, and infant care to patients to reduce those risks.

“We’ve long known what works to reduce maternal and infant complications,” said Marta Bralic Kerns, founder and CEO of Pomelo Care.

“The questions have always been: can you identify the patients who are at highest risk, can you deeply engage them in care to drive uptake of the prevention strategies we know work, and can you do it in the highest risk populations with the most limited access to care?”

“This data demonstrates that we absolutely can. And with this additional funding, we’ll have the opportunity to scale our care model to more pregnant people across the country.”

The funding, led by existing investors First Round Capital and Andreessen Horowitz (a16z) Bio + Health, is hoped to help Pomelo accelerate its partnerships with payors across the US and increase access to “evidence-based” care.

Josh Kopelman, partner at First Round Capital and Pomelo board member, said: “It’s rare to come across an opportunity where the incentives between patient, provider and payor are all aligned.

“Marta and the Pomelo team have found an incredible opportunity to dramatically improve outcomes for the highest risk populations, while helping payors reduce their avoidable costs.”

Vineeta Agarwala, general partner at a16z Bio + Health and Pomelo board member, added: “Pomelo is one among a small set of health tech companies that have earned true scale.

“This scale is evident in our partnerships with major Medicaid and commercial plans covering over three million lives, which create the opportunity to collaborate with OB providers, labour and delivery wards, and NICUs nationwide, while serving hundreds of thousands of expecting mothers and newborns with high quality, technology-enabled care.”

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One in three UK fertility patients seek treatment abroad due to high costs

Expensive fertility treatments prompt UK patients to seek help abroad

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One in three fertility patients in the UK seek treatment abroad due to high costs, a new survey has shown.

Fertility Family has gathered insights from 429 UK participants who have experienced difficulties with infertility.

The Infertility Awareness Report found that the high cost of fertility treatment in the UK has driven over one in four people to spend over £10,000 on both treatments and investigative procedures.

The research showed around 35 per cent of people struggling with infertility have considered seeking fertility treatment abroad due to the prospect of lower costs.

Of those seeking fertility treatment in a foreign country, however, only 14 per cent believed that clinics abroad have a higher success rate.

Of those actively trying to conceive almost one in five have used their life savings in the pursuit of having a child, whilst 25 per cent have paid for their fertility treatments using a credit card.

Dr Gill Lockwood, consultant at Fertility Family, said: “While we tend to cast our gaze on women when it comes to infertility, case studies have shown that infertility can impact both women and men in similar ways. However, women have been observed to seek help more than men.

“Although the psychological struggles of infertility can be overwhelming, many patients ultimately reach some type of resolution. Some of the alternatives include becoming parents to a relative’s children, adopting children, or deciding to adopt a child-free lifestyle.

“Needless to say, this resolution is usually psychologically demanding, and patients may feel forever impacted by the experience of infertility.”

A combination of fertility struggles and accessible healthcare have impacted people across the UK significantly, with one in two admitting to feeling “ashamed” due to their difficulties trying to conceive.

A further 31 per cent reported feeling that other people think “less” of them due to their fertility struggles, showcasing the need for better mental health support.

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