Feature

Telemedicine meets menopause in customized patient care service


 

Women facing issues related to perimenopause and menopause can consult their primary care physicians or ob.gyns. through telemedicine visits, but a new online portal, the Cusp, offers an alternative model with a focus on menopause and access to experts for a monthly membership fee.

The Cusp doesn’t claim to replace routine gynecologic care. Rather, it focuses on perimenopause and menopause symptoms specifically, and states that its physicians, some of whom are certified by the North American Menopause Society, provide expertise in menopause beyond what patients might receive as part of a typical ob.gyn. visit.

The Cusp is a for-profit organization, a group of physicians, nurse practitioners, and technologists who focus on integrated care for women in perimenopause and beyond. The aim is to leverage technology as a way to connect women to the care platform to book physician and nurse practitioner visits virtually and to have all of the information about their care centralized in one place.

According to the website, most patients who sign up for a care plan check in with their providers at least once a month to monitor their symptoms and tweak treatment strategies. Patients who sign up are prompted to download an app, which then becomes the main tool for scheduling future visits, tracking symptoms, and communicating with providers.

Dr. Mindy Goldman, professor of gynecology and gynecologic surgery at the University of California, San Francisco,

Dr. Mindy Goldman

The Cusp launched in early 2019, before the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the pandemic has accelerated the acceptance across medical specialties, suggesting that telemedicine is here to stay, according to Mindy Goldman, MD, professor of gynecology and gynecologic surgery at the University of California, San Francisco, and director of the Gynecology Center for Cancer Survivors and At-Risk Women at UCSF, who also serves as a medical adviser to the Cusp.

Partnering with technology companies allows opportunities to provide care in areas where there are gaps, such as menopause management, she said. Many clinicians in primary care and ob.gyn. care don’t have the time or training to discuss menopause management in depth with patients, and patient interviews conducted by the Cusp before launching the site showed that this was an area of need.

“One thing that is really unique about the Cusp is that we brought together experts to provide care in both in an evidence-based and holistic fashion,” Dr. Goldman emphasized.

The Cusp’s medical team includes physician and nurse practitioner menopause experts with backgrounds including not only ob.gyn. but also psychiatry, integrative medicine, and naturopathic medicine, with plans to add endocrinology and dermatology as well. This holistic approach allows the Cusp to tailor care based on what each woman is looking for, with evidence-based expertise to support treatment decisions, said Dr. Goldman, whose advisory role includes helping to develop patient treatment protocols and services.

If a woman wants to begin treating symptoms with a naturopathic approach, the team will provide protocols that take current guidelines into account. Regular visits, approximately once a month or as needed, allow for collaboration with the Cusp’s specialists to provide consistent care that is very comprehensive, she said.

One of the benefits of the Cusp is the opportunity for “frequent touchpoints” in which providers reach out to patients via text, email, or video. Although a traditional medical visit may include some initial discussion of menopause and treatment plans, the Cusp offers “a more seamless way to address needs on an ongoing basis,” to provide more complete patient care, Dr. Goldman said.

“We are constantly asking women what they are looking for in menopause care,” and a recurring question was about hormone testing, she said. Nontraditional practitioners may offer hormone testing as a way of individualizing care that also involves compounded formulations, and other treatments that are not standard of care. “In all of our protocols we follow what is recommended by standard organizations such as ACOG [American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists] and NAMS.”

The Cusp’s newest service is an at-home hormone test currently for women in New York and California, but the company plans to expand this service. The hormone test, while not essential, is another tool to guide menopause management, and having a sense of when menopause will occur “gives us a chance to talk to people about behavioral changes and time to personalize a treatment protocol,” Dr. Goldman said.

The test is based in part on the anti-Müllerian hormone, which recent studies have shown is useful in predicting time to menopause. This, in combination with other hormone tests and other clinical information, will allow the Cusp’s menopause specialists to help women in perimenopause gain perspective on their symptoms and design a treatment plan that can evolve as their needs change, she explained.

“The more information you know about when menopause is going to be happening, you can tailor your treatment plan,” Dr. Goldman said. For example, a woman who may be 2 years away from menopause might consider a naturopathic approach at first, and switch to a different therapy as menopause occurs. “We know that the risks of cardiovascular disease and bone loss increase after menopause, and knowing the time to menopause gives us more guidance when educating patients about healthy lifestyle habits such as exercise and dietary changes that can help reduce these risks.”

The Cusp allows patients to use money in flexible spending accounts or health savings accounts to pay for the program. If doctors require lab tests or other procedures, these are covered through the patients’ regular health insurance as they would be if requested by a primary care physician or other health care professional.

Dr. Lubna Pal, professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at Yale University, New Haven, Conn.

Dr. Lubna Pal

Lubna Pal, MBBS, director of the menopause program at Yale University, New Haven, Conn., commented that part of the value in a telehealth site such as the Cusp is to serve as “a resource for reproductively aging women to understand what is happening to them.”

Any way to improve education on the topic of menopause is empowering to women, said Dr. Pal, professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at Yale. “This is an opportunity for patients to have access to a directed evaluation” of menopause-related symptoms. Then, when women visit their regular health care provider in person, they are well-equipped with knowledge to ask more informed questions and discuss a wide range of treatment options.

Dr. Pal noted that the hormone test is less valuable than the interaction between physicians and patients, whether online or in person.

“Menopause is a Monday morning quarterback diagnosis,” she said, emphasizing that, not only is a year without menses part of the diagnosis of menopause, many women in perimenopause can have wide fluctuations in hormone levels, so a test is more of a snapshot than a diagnostic tool, and that the results might cause unnecessary angst and concerns for patients.

However, part of the value of a telehealth site that focuses on menopause is that it gives women a place to learn more about their biology and to clarify their questions about symptoms and become aware of a range of treatment options. Telehealth consultations also can help women recognize how other factors such as lifestyle modifications can play a role in menopause symptoms, and how modifying these factors may provide some relief, she said.

Dr. Pal said she would be cautious about the idea of prescribing without seeing the patient in person, but noted that telehealth sites such as the Cusp can be a win-win to enhance women’s health when used in combination with regular in-person visits to an ob.gyn. The added value in patients’ being able to discuss their concerns and to learn more about their symptoms means that they will be better informed to develop a menopause management strategy in partnership with their providers, said Dr. Pal, who is not associated with the Cusp.

Dr. Goldman disclosed receiving compensation from the Cusp for her advisory work. She also holds stock options in the company. Dr. Pal, who is a member of the Ob.Gyn. News editorial advisory board, had no financial conflicts to disclose.

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