At age 18, Jane Sagui found herself suddenly struggling with cystic acne, her hair falling out in clumps, anxiety, and insomnia. She chalked some of it up to the stressful transition of starting college, but as her physical and mental health symptoms persisted beyond the first semester, she began to look for an answer. Sagui went through a parade of healthcare professionals seeking healing, including primary care physicians, OB-GYNs, a naturopathic doctor, and a nutritionist. A couple of doctors originally ruled out polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) because she hadn’t experienced weight gain or hirsutism (facial hair growth), two common PCOS symptoms.
The Struggle of Getting A PCOS Diagnosis
By the time she found out she had non-insulin resistant PCOS and had a treatment plan, it took almost two years. It came to light that Sagui’s case of PCOS could likely be attributed to the particular birth control she had been taking and the levels of estrogen and androgens in it that didn’t agree with her own hormonal balance. (She notes that otherwise, she supports practitioners prescribing birth control for hormonal conditions; it’s just a matter of figuring out which one works for your body).
Sagui’s experience is not all that different from many people with ovaries’ initial experiences with getting a PCOS diagnosis. Though it affects 1 in 10 people, close to 50 percent of PCOS cases go undiagnosed, and it takes on average 2 years and 3 doctors for most people to be diagnosed with PCOS.
How Pollie Was Born
After living with PCOS for the rest of her college and post-grad years and staying in close contact with her college friend, Sabrina Mason, Sagui and Mason started talking about collaborating in their careers. Mason also had an innate interest in health after having a mysterious fever illness during her childhood that doctors couldn’t ever fully diagnose. She considered going to medical school, but instead pursued a master’s degree in public health and worked in healthcare management, helping providers improve the patient experience, and later in healthtech.
With Sagui’s background in management consulting, especially for digital healthcare companies, and in venture capital for health tech companies after that, they make the perfect pair. They launched Pollie earlier in 2020, in order to connect patients with chronic health conditions directly with hormonal health providers who then give them an exploratory virtual consultation. (The cute name is short for polycystic ovary syndrome; it’s also a name that may remind their members of a friend that you can have a conversation with, the founders say).
The idea is that potential members who are noticing signs of something like an autoimmune condition can visit Pollie’s site and take a quick quiz to determine their budget and the exact services they’re looking for, that’ll then match them with the appropriate healthcare provider for their needs (the digital service Pollie offers is completely free, by the way). In addition to that, Sagui and Mason hope that Pollie can become an important source of information for people who may not have any idea exactly which condition is affecting them.
“There’s a huge education issue in this market. [Hormonal health] is a space that no one has touched in a systematic way, and we thought we could have an impact on the patient experience,” Mason says. Right now, one of their main points of focus is on getting the word out about chronic health conditions through education, both on Pollie’s social media channels and blog, which covers everything from thyroid imbalances, to postpartum hormonal health, to the dangers of endocrine disruptors marketed toward Black women. Their audience is typically a mix of people who have just received a diagnosis of something like PCOS or endometriosis and are frustrated with the lack of guidance they may have experienced from the traditional healthcare system, or it could be people who are searching for a diagnosis that coincides with the symptoms they have—and Pollie could be that solution, Sagui says.
Why Hormone Health Needs To Be A Priority
“Hormonal health,” which often involves functional medicine and holistic health practices, has historically been a bit taboo, but as “wellness” has come into the mainstream vernacular, hormonal health practices have followed, for the most part. There are people who still find holistic medicine to be alienating, Sagui points out. “Some people want to stick with more conventional care, and we respect that,” she says.
Other people, who have perhaps been dismissed by conventional medical practitioners when they present certain symptoms, may have a distrust in the mainstream medical system. Pollie aims to build a bridge between conventional and functional medicine, the founders say. They have an ND advisor and are in the process of incorporating an OB-GYN into their network, but also work to pair many NDs and nutritionists with members to provide supplemental care.
“The vision is that an OB-GYN can diagnose PCOS, but given the healthcare system, an OB-GYN can’t go through your diet, exercise, and symptoms every week, because they simply don’t have enough time,” Sagui says. It’s key that every member’s case is given adequate time and attention that they might not be able to receive in a doctor’s office.
One of the founders’ long-term goals, as more people use their services, is orchestrating more research around hormonal health conditions, including endometriosis and PCOS. “Right now we collect data about what members are looking for, but down the line we can collect symptoms and treatment data and partner with organizations and institutions for research,” Mason says. Plus, Mason and Sagui add, so many clinical trials have been done on male-identifying bodies, and it’s important to recognize that bodies with ovaries function differently. More research could bring greater medical understanding to these complex conditions.
For now, the objective is for Pollie to be a “one-stop-shop for females and non-binary people with complex chronic conditions, like hormonal imbalances, autoimmune diseases, and digestive issues,” Sagui says. With these conditions, there’s generally a web of various symptoms (for example, Sagui had both digestive, skin health, and mental health symptoms associated with PCOS), so it might take multiple practitioners, like dietitians, health coaches, naturopathic doctors, or nurse practitioners, working in conjunction to assess and treat the person. Having that diverse group of providers helps to ensure that no one member is left out of the equation or has their symptoms ignored, the founders say. Ultimately, Pollie aims to be an inclusive, accessible platform for those whose chronic conditions have been chronically dismissed to be heard and be healed.