According to the CDC, the prevalence of Osteoporosis in adults in the United States is higher among women than men. Furthermore, the Bone Health and Osteoporosis Foundation explains that out of the estimated 10 million Americans with osteoporosis, about eight million or 80% are women. They explain that women tend to have smaller, thinner bones than men, and that estrogen, a hormone in women that protects bones, decreases sharply when women reach menopause, which can cause bone loss. This is why the chance of developing osteoporosis increases as women reach menopause.
Given this issue disproportionately impacts women, and the way women’s health and women’s pain is often dismissed or mishandled by the medical industry, how is this being addressed in a way that ensures quality of life and support?
One woman, who saw the first-hand impact of osteoporosis on the women in her family, decided she was going to take matters into her own hand to help support not only her family members, but many other women across the country.
Priya Patel is the founder and CEO of Wellen, the first online fitness platform utilizing GenAI designed exclusively for women with osteoporosis and osteopenia. Priya started Wellen initially as a personal project as her mother and grandmother both have osteoporosis. Now shortly after launch, Wellen has hundreds of users.
In addition to providing personalized workout programs designed by a team of medical and physical therapy experts, Wellen has created the first-of-its kind AI chatbot using integration of advanced language learning models and expert-written content to provide reliable and accurate info in a matter of seconds.
Finding reliable, accurate, and valuable information online can be challenging, but Wellen’s chatbot overcomes this hurdle by delivering pertinent information within seconds. Each response from the bot includes direct links to expert-written content on Wellen’s website, reinforcing the trust and credibility.
Wellen’s AI chatbot is available at no cost to individuals dealing with osteoporosis and osteopenia. Accessible through both mobile and desktop, users can simply click on the Wellen Chat on the homepage tab to gain a deeper understanding of their condition and how to manage it, without the need for login or personal data.
We had the opportunity to speak with Priya about addressing a gap in healthcare, the purpose of Wellen, and the impact she is having in women’s lives today, including her mother and grandmother.
How did you get into the medical entrepreneur world? Had you always planned on this career path?
My journey into medical entrepreneurship was not a straight path. Rather it evolved through a variety of experiences and interests. Originally trained as a lawyer, my first dive into the world of tech startups came when I left law and jumped on the opportunity to experience TechStars with a team of founders who had been accepted to the program. However, the tech industry’s male-dominant culture, along with my transition into motherhood, caused me to take a brief step back.
During this time, I shifted my focus to UX design, which ultimately led me back to the startup world. The course of my career took a decisive turn when I joined Sesame, a healthcare marketplace for direct-to-patient services, where I led product and design. This experience ultimately drove me to found Wellen, a pioneering digital platform focused on health and wellness for women over 50.
Can you tell us the personal story behind how Wellen began?
Wellen was born out of a deeply personal experience. I witnessed firsthand the debilitating impact of osteoporosis on my grandmother. Despite being otherwise healthy, she faced a steady physical decline, eventually becoming wheelchair-bound and moving into a nursing home. Her passing in the early stages of the pandemic, when we were forced to say goodbye through a glass window, was one of the most difficult moments of my life. That experience became the driving force behind Wellen.
Osteoporosis isn’t unique to my grandmother–it’s also a part of my mother’s life and could potentially be a part of mine. The stark reality is that one in two women over 50 are at risk of a bone break due to this condition. At Wellen, we’re striving to change that narrative and redefine the future of health for women.
What are the biggest gaps in the market that you have identified for patients with osteoporosis and osteopenia?
In the healthcare industry, the management of chronic conditions like osteoporosis is often skewed heavily towards medication. However, medication, while improving bone density, doesn’t influence other key fracture risk factors like muscle strength, muscle power, dynamic balance, coordination, and functional movement. Furthermore, patient adherence to bone health medication is widely known to be low; in the first year of treatment, only about 34 to 75% of patients take their osteoporosis medications as prescribed.
Recognizing this gap, I advocate for a more holistic approach to osteoporosis management, one that extends beyond medication. A critical part of this comprehensive solution is exercise, which can reduce fractures resulting from falls by up to 60%, enhance bone density, muscle mass, and overall health. In creating Wellen, our aim is to provide patients with tools that empower them to make meaningful changes in their lifestyle that can complement pharmaceutical interventions. Ultimately, we believe a more balanced, comprehensive approach to healthcare is the key to improving outcomes.
AI has changed the way we do just about everything in life! How has it contributed to the work you are doing, and improved the way people look at healthcare?
At Wellen, we’re excited about the potential that AI has to help us live healthier lives. A perfect illustration of this is our AI chatbot, Wellen Chat. We built Wellen Chat with a specific aim – to make our expert-written content readily accessible. Instead of delving into an ocean of articles to learn more about bone health, you have the convenience of an interactive conversation with Wellen Chat. The responses you get are derived from material composed by our team of medical professionals, including doctors, physical therapists, and dietitians.
Furthermore, it links you to the original sources on our Well Guide, ensuring transparency and encouraging further exploration. We believe AI is an exciting tool that can help streamline the path to improved health.
For someone wanting to use Wellen or discovering it for the first time, what can they expect to find on the site?
Onboarding to Wellen begins with us getting to know you better. We start by asking questions to gauge your current fitness level and understand your unique needs. We then provide you with your first personalized 12-week exercise program, which delivers three tailored workouts each week to improve your strength, balance, and posture.
But it’s not just about exercise. We provide a comprehensive platform that also includes the Well Guide and Wellen Chat, resources that offer valuable insights on everything from nutrition to lifestyle changes and medications. Moreover, our Well Tips embedded within the program serve as bite-sized, actionable advice to help manage your condition better. So, on Wellen, you get more than just a fitness routine; you get a roadmap to holistic health management.
Can you tell us what it was like launching this company and any hurdles you faced along the way?
Starting Wellen was a challenging yet rewarding journey, with one of the most significant obstacles being the investment landscape. It’s no secret that the field of women’s health, and particularly health for older women, is often overlooked by investors. This stems from the unfortunate reality that the venture capital world is still predominantly male, and people tend to fund solutions to problems they personally understand or have experienced.
With women’s health concerns being underrepresented in these circles, it’s often challenging to secure the necessary resources. However, we’re dedicated to bridging this gap and advocating for greater recognition and investment in women’s health.
There is a huge problem of women being ignored by traditional medicine, or having their issues brushed aside. Given that osteoporosis affects so many women over 50, how does Wellen step in to engage women at this crucial point of their lives?
Wellen is designed to address this precise issue. We recognize the widespread problem of women, particularly those over 50, feeling overlooked by traditional healthcare systems. Osteoporosis, a condition affecting one in two women over 50, is a prime example. We’ve developed Wellen to fill this void, offering a tailored approach that understands the unique needs of women at this stage of their lives.
Our platform provides an engaging, comprehensive solution that empowers women through a combination of exercise and educational resources, all designed with their specific health needs in mind. We believe in empowering women to take control of their health journeys, and through Wellen, we’re providing them with the necessary tools to do exactly that.
How does Wellen aim to change the statistics around Osteoporosis through the services you provide?
Of the estimated 10 million Americans with osteoporosis, about eight million or 80% are women. 54 million Americans – or half of all adults over 50 – are at risk of breaking a bone and should be concerned about bone health. 1 in 2 women over the age of 50 will break a bone due to osteoporosis.
And osteoporosis has massive societal costs – in 2018, there were $2M osteoporotic fractures which results in $57B in costs in the U.S. With an aging population, this number will only increase and is expected to reach $95B by 2040.
At Wellen, we’re tackling these alarming statistics head-on. We’ve created a personalized exercise program designed to bolster women’s strength, balance, and posture. These are key components in reducing the risk of falls and fractures that have life-altering consequences. We aim to empower women to make essential lifestyle changes that can dramatically improve their overall health and ultimately enable independence as they age.
On a personal note, what do you hope your legacy and impact will be through Wellen and the work you are doing?
In the world today, healthcare often seems to be more about managing sickness than fostering wellness. We operate within a system that tends to lean heavily on medications and procedures, but rarely puts the focus on sustainable lifestyle changes that could truly transform health outcomes and potentially lower costs. It’s my aspiration that Wellen will shift this paradigm and redefine what healthcare can be—more holistic, comprehensive, and proactive.
With Wellen, we’re not looking to replace the traditional healthcare system, but to complement it. We’re integrating science-backed, lifestyle-oriented solutions into our approach, and we’ve begun this journey with our personalized exercise program for osteoporosis. This, however, is only the starting point. Our vision sees this approach being extended to myriad other health conditions and programs, thereby broadening the scope of healthcare.
In essence, my hope for my legacy—and the impact of Wellen—is to drive the shift towards a healthcare system that doesn’t merely react to illnesses, but proactively works to maintain health. We’re taking the first steps, but envision a future where healthcare is genuinely holistic.
Click to learn more about Wellen to find a personalized fitness program for Osteoporosis and Osteopenia.