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Extend Fertility CEO: Why Design In Healthcare Matters

“This whole concept of design is making its way through healthcare. It’s doing it, unfortunately, one specialty at a time, but I think we’ll get there.”

Extend Fertility CEO: Why Design In Healthcare Matters
[Photo: courtesy Extend Fertility]

Ilaina Edison is CEO of the egg-freezing startup Extend Fertility. She spoke to Doreen Lorenzo for Designing Women, a series of interviews with brilliant women in the design industry.

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Doreen Lorenzo: Tell us about what Extend Fertility does.

[Photo: courtesy Extend Fertility]

Ilaina Edison: Extend Fertility is the country’s first egg-freezing-only specialty practice. We believe that women who are seeking to preserve their eggs for use later in life deserve their own customized, purpose-built environment, office, and service. Until we came along, the only place a woman could go to freeze her eggs was an IVF clinic. We created this company to meet the needs of women who are looking to preserve their fertility, as opposed to women and men who are trying to have a baby now.

DL: What is the big problem that you’re trying to solve?

IE: Accessibility to fertility preservation is the issue. There is very little treatment for age-related infertility, which is why accessibility is so important. If you could freeze your eggs younger, for example, before age 35, then you wouldn’t have age-related infertility at such a high rate.

The main reason that women come in to freeze their eggs is that they don’t have a partner with whom they are ready to have a child with at that point in their lives. Time plays a huge role. Fertility is the function of egg quantity and quality, and age degrades both. It’s huge pressure. If you’re any kind of planner, and you’re 33 or older and not in a relationship, you start doing the math. It’s the tyranny of time.

We also found that less than 5% of women who wanted to freeze their eggs actually did it, and the reason they didn’t was the cost. Our own consumer research validated that insight.

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[Photo: courtesy Extend Fertility]

DL: What are the characteristics and backgrounds of the people that you hire? Where do they come from?

IE: They come from all walks of life. We have a nurse who was a TV health reporter and then went back to nursing school. To be a journalist, you have to be curious, so she brings that to the table, and the team is able to observe and learn from that trait. We have staff who have tried several different careers before they joined us. Our non-clinician director of partnerships and education studied chemistry, then went on to get a nutrition degree and wrote a book on nutrition, then came to us, because she really loved the idea of helping women learn more about fertility. So there really are many different backgrounds.

DL: Clearly this is a very empathetic business. You have to have a pretty empathetic group of people. How do you find employees?

IE: Employees have to have empathy. People who are curiously intelligent, that have integrity, are self-aware, are warm and friendly in character—these characteristics are important.

Our first three employees, myself included, attended a three-day workshop on the principles of enlightened hospitality before we moved forward to develop our service offering and help identify the employees we hired. Technical capabilities are very important. But what’s really important is who you are. What are your emotional capabilities? Who are you while you’re doing your job? Technical skills can improve over time, and you can teach them. Emotional capabilities can be harder to teach.

[Photo: courtesy Extend Fertility]

DL: It sounds like every touchpoint of the experience has to be a good one. How do you design those touchpoints? What role does design play in your appeal?

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IE: When we drew out the model for service, our customer journey, we asked ourselves a very important question: ‘Whoever said we have to do it this way?’ We did not want to replicate the design of healthcare delivery today. We knew that there were gaps in the customer experience, so we took the perspective of the customer. Most clinicians are trained in clinical services, but often put patients at a distance. We do the opposite. And sometimes that’s hard for people to learn, but we train people to connect the dots of hospitality to high-quality care and teach them how each step of the way, each connection of that dot, actually leads to something that is better for the patient.

Some women aren’t sure if they want to go through the egg-freezing process and want to speak with women who have been through it. In those cases, we connect them with our former patients/ambassadors—fortunately, we have many past patients that are happy to do this.

We have consult rooms—one-on-one rooms that look like little living rooms because it makes people feel more comfortable. We spent a lot of time discussing the size of the round table in the room—we sat at all these different tables, asking each other personal questions so that we could really get a feel for it. Having the clinicians ask each other personal questions at different sized tables gave them a very important perspective. We also asked personal questions that were more aligned with what we might ask somebody freezing their eggs. One important question is: What’s your goal? What is making you think about doing this? Do you have an idea of why you might want to freeze your eggs? This exercise really teaches folks the impact of asking something personal and being able to later connect the dots to lead to a positive outcome. When you help identify goals for people, they begin to feel that the actions they’re taking are empowering—that the actions they are taking are positive and it leads to a sense of fulfillment.

This can’t happen without design–for people to feel supported it’s important for them to be in an environment that supports them and that doesn’t feel clinical and cold.

[Photo: courtesy Extend Fertility]

DL: Do you think you’re seeing more use of design methodologies in the medical profession?

IE: I do. One of the challenges in healthcare stems from the fact that people who become clinicians really do want to help people, but they are limited by the tools they can access to solve problems. Sometimes that limitation creates a barrier that blocks truly helping the person completely because the clinician feels he or she can only go so far. So, I think the theory around design methods can be very helpful to clinicians because it helps them think–and see–the bigger picture and the other ways that you can be helpful to people.
This whole concept of design is making its way through healthcare. It’s doing it, unfortunately, one specialty at a time, but I think we’ll get there.

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DL: Do you consider yourself a creative person?

IE: Yes, only because I think outside the box. My mom was an artist and an art teacher, and I can’t for the life of me draw anything. Growing up I always thought that I’ll never be a creative person, but as I began to work I realized that I am a very outside-the-box thinker, and very curious. That’s what creativity is about: being curious and willing to ask and listen and understand and process and think about things. I like the idea of letting go of traditional ideas and connecting dots in different ways. And that’s really what I thought was such a great opportunity. We had this general concept of egg freezing and making it affordable, and the only way to really do it was to look at the world very differently.

About the author

Doreen Lorenzo is an independent business advisor and the former president of frog and Quirky.

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