Buoyant: a guide for your migraine journey
Buoyant is an online medical practice dedicated to helping migraine patients with personalized and actionable treatment plans. Through my conversation with Sherry Wu, I had the chance to learn more about how Buoyant is trying to transform migraine care, one headache at a time.
Sherry Wu, WG’21, worked in healthcare consulting prior to business school and is a migraine patient herself. Having been to multiple doctors throughout college and as a young adult, she struggled with getting personalized and convenient treatment. She often wished that she could just text someone for advice when a pill didn’t work, instead of waiting weeks for an appointment with a doctor and testing out different types of migraine medication. Sherry shed light on some of her own personal experiences with throbbing headaches, ultra-light and smell sensitivity, nausea, and visual impairment- all caused by migraines- a condition that often disrupted her active lifestyle.
She further explained how in her experience, it can be difficult to find the right doctor who can not only prescribe medication but also address root causes and provides lifestyle adjustment recommendations like nutrition and sleep, which are important contributors to patient satisfaction.
Right before Wharton, Sherry did an operations internship at a telemedicine-enabled healthcare startup, and it struck her that she could, in fact, devise a much-needed convenient solution for migraine care. She decided to start Buoyant to provide all migraine sufferers personalized care and give their headaches the attention they deserved.
Migraines are not just headaches!
A vast, underserved market
Migraine is an extraordinarily prevalent neurological disease, affecting 39 million men, women and children in the US, and 1 billion worldwide. As the 3rd most prevalent illness in the world and the 6th most disabling, most people don’t realize how incapacitating migraine can be. According to Sherry, there’s still a lot of stigma associated with migraines just because it’s a relatively ‘invisible’ disease. Attacks usually last between 4 and 72 hours, and more than 90% of sufferers are unable to work or function normally during their migraine.
A migraine is not just a severe headache- headaches are only one symptom of migraines. In addition to severe head pain, migraine sufferers may experience some or all of the following symptoms- nausea, increased sensitivity to light, sounds or smells, dizziness, and extreme fatigue. Moreover, migraines look different for everyone, and not everyone experiences all four phases (pre-headache, aura, headache, and the postdromal phases) of a migraine attack.
Despite its seriousness, migraine remains poorly understood and is often undiagnosed and undertreated. According to the Migraine Research Foundation, as of 2020, there were about 700 certified headache specialists in the US for the millions of sufferers, with only a very small percentage of sufferers seeking care from specialists. For reference, the global migraine drugs market size was worth $4.23B in 2020 and is on track to reach a size of $5.32B by 2025, at a CAGR of 4.87%.
Buoyant face competition from traditional hospitals, virtual telemedicine solutions like Teladoc, and other specialized telemedicine startups. Some noteworthy migraine telehealth providers are Nurx, Amwell and Modern Migraine MD. Nurx, a health tech company that has been providing virtual healthcare to women since 2015, expanded its services recently to include headache and migraine care. Subscribers pay a fee in exchange for an online medical consultation and video exam, personalized treatment plans, a daily headache tracker, regular check-ins with a trained and licensed medical provider, and home delivery of medication. Amwell provides similar services for migraine as well as for other conditions such as fibromyalgia, restless leg, etc. Modern Migraine MD seeks to provide fast, convenient, and accessible migraine health services with specialists who are available within 48 hours, as opposed to specialists who often need to be scheduled 6 weeks out. It’s clear that migraine telemedicine is gaining popularity rapidly, with several established players making a foray into the space and competing for patients.
Migraines and telehealth
Over the past several months of the pandemic, there has been an accelerated adoption of telehealth with an expansion of use cases, and the upward trend is only expected to continue. Studies have shown that in the case of migraines, quality of care received during telehealth appointments is highly comparable to that from in-person doctor visits. Most migraine treatments can be prescribed through telehealth with a few exceptions such as injections that need to be given in a clinical setting.
The legal and regulatory landscape for telemedicine is, however, complex and evolving. Physicians are required to be licensed in the state where they practice medicine and concerns arise when telemedicine enables providers to cross state boundaries, so verifying the location of the patient becomes even more important. Moreover, there are several issues surrounding both tele-prescribing and data privacy & confidentiality.
While there is still some legal uncertainty even after recent changes to federal and state regulations making it easier for healthcare providers to offer telemedicine, telemedicine as a care option is here to stay. It is crucial to note though, that telemedicine may not be right for all people with migraine. It fills a gap but should not be the only means for obtaining healthcare.
Buoyant- get trusted advice when you need it
Managing her team of 3 members and 1 intern, Sherry has partnered with two doctors licensed to practice in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, to provide care through the Buoyant platform. Buoyant differentiates itself from other migraine care services in several ways- a simpler, more convenient way to access specialized care, strong doctor-patient relationships, and personalized treatment at the patient’s fingertips.
“Migraine triggers and treatments are highly individualized, so it’s a process of discovery and iteration that is difficult to navigate alone - and that’s where Buoyant comes in.”- Sherry Wu, WG’21
Personalizing and simplifying migraine care
Instead of having to undertake a tedious search process for the right migraine specialist, patients simply fill out a questionnaire on the Buoyant website, providing more information about their migraine symptoms and medical history, after which the Buoyant team confirms their eligibility and matches them with a physician. Patients can choose from several 3-month packages on the website with prices ranging from $30 to $199 based on facilities offered. Flexibility and customer satisfaction remain at the core, with the ability to purchase add-on packages, or even cancel subscriptions if patients are not completely satisfied after a month of use.
After their initial onboarding, patients can schedule video consultations and work with their physician to develop a personalized treatment plan that gives them a choice between medication, supplements or changes to their lifestyle, or a combination of these options. Buoyant focuses on creating an atmosphere where patients feel welcome and understood, and apart from video appointments with dedicated doctors, patients enjoy continuity of care through 24/7 messaging through their app (the current version of which is has been developed by a third-party). Sherry explained how a ‘migraine dairy’ is used to facilitate conversations between doctors and patients. It operates as a tracking mechanism to understand the types of treatments to which the patients best respond, through an iterative process.
The journey ahead
Having run a pilot over the summer in 2020 with a small cohort of patients, Buoyant identified their initial target audience as 18- to 45-year-old students and working professionals located in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, who experience migraines at least once a month. Since the summer, the team’s focus has been on market channel testing to accumulate subscribers. They are currently working on refining their offering, and in their next phase, hope to launch a commercially viable mobile app.