Long before launching the digital health startup Equal Health a year and a half ago, Avantika (Avi) Varma, MD, MPH was passionate about building more equitable spaces within healthcare. The roots of Varma’s first startup actually date back to her time volunteering at orphanages and hospitals near New Delhi while she was growing up.
“I knew from a really young age that I wanted to work more with an underserved community,” she told Hypepotamus. So during medical school, Varma focused her efforts on HIV care and healthcare for the LGBTQIA+ community.
“My experience in healthcare made me realize that there’s a significant gap and comprehensive healthcare services…[LGBTQIA+] folks are discriminated against, even within the healthcare system. And so I knew that I wanted to start a company where my patients felt safe, where they felt heard, and they felt that their health was affirmed,” she added.
Equal Health looks to do just that through a telehealth platform designed specifically for the LGBTQIA+ community. Users sign in on the HIPAA-compliant platform and are connected to healthcare providers that specialize in LGBTQIA+ health.
Patients can select and customize their healthcare needs, whether that is gender affirming hormone therapy, HIV prevention, HIV treatment, sexual health services, medical letter writing, and some mental health treatment. The goal is to bring specialized healthcare telehealth treatment “under one roof,” something that can be difficult when people are navigating many different doctor’s offices and providers to get the care they need.
Equal Health is helping address a major gap: There simply aren’t enough healthcare providers trained in LGBTQ+ health.
But it is also helping patients navigate the complicated local healthcare landscape.
Headquartered in Atlanta, Equal Health is currently serving 14 states across the US. Varma said she is particularly passionate about building Equal Health within the area, given Atlanta’s large LGBTQIA+ population, the State of Georgia’s high rate of HIV cases, and the increasingly limited LGBTQIA+ healthcare options available in Southeastern states.
“Seeing that access is becoming more limited for patients was another reason to try to face those challenges and [be] here as support for the LGBTQ community,” she said.
Bootstrapped to date, Varma said she is focused on growing Equal Health’s patient base.
“Additionally, we’re looking to expand more in the mental health space. So currently, we offer treatment for mild to moderate depression and anxiety. But we really have found that there’s a high demand for more mental health care services,” she added.