Plume, the first health technology company focused on offering gender-affirming care, has recently expanded into North Carolina — and three of its founding members are UNC alumni.
Dr. Matthew Wetschler, CEO and co-founder of Plume and a 2013 graduate of the UNC School of Medicine, said the company offers a completely digital platform that provides medical care for the transgender community.
“We provide immediate access to gender-affirming hormone therapy through the convenience of the smartphone, and it’s guided by a team that is predominantly trans themselves,” Wetschler said.
Plume provides one-on-one consultations with clinicians as well as immediate access to medication, Wetschler said.
Dr. Jerrica Kirkley is the chief medical officer and co-founder of Plume and a 2012 graduate of the UNC School of Medicine. She said these one-on-one video consultations allow clinicians to create an individualized plan for hormone replacement therapy.
All of Plume’s services are provided through an app, Kirkley said
“Basically all the things you do when you walk into a typical clinical office to become a new patient, but we’ll do all that asynchronously,” Kirkley said.
Plume utilizes a virtual model in order to mitigate circumstances that would prevent a patient from getting the treatment they needed, Kirkley said. These circumstances include not being located in close proximity to a clinic that provides these services, and insurance and cost restrictions.
“Our model is completely cash only, so it is completely independent of insurance,” Wetschler said. “It doesn’t matter what insurance you have or if you have no insurance; you can still access Plume.”
The services Plume provides costs $99 per month, he said, which includes all visits with clinicians and all the labs the patient needs. Currently, the cost of medication is not included in Plume’s monthly cost. Wetschler said insurance or discount cards usually make medication around $10 to $20 per month.
Soltan Bryce, head of growth at Plume and a 2013 UNC graduate, said the company aims to provide a solution for trans people that want consistent care.
“As a trans person myself, moving, changing jobs, changing coverage, can be really nerve-wracking when it comes to consistency of access to HRT,” Bryce said. “I think providing this as a resource, especially for outgoing students, students taking a break, students really experiencing any disruption in their care, access or coverage, I think we become a really helpful resource there.”
Plume comes to North Carolina in an unprecedented time for health care, Wetschler said.
“This seems to align with many key trends in our country right now,” Wetschler said. “I think there is unprecedented visibility of the trans community, there is an unprecedented availability of technology and there is also an unprecedented shift in how medicine is being delivered, especially during COVID."
Katherine Croft is the program manager of UNC’s Transgender Health Program. Croft said the program is another resource that trans people on and around UNC’s campus can utilize.
“Our primary goal is to expand access to transgender health services in North Carolina, through UNC specifically,” Croft said. “We offer all kinds of different services that trans students might need including primary care, hormone therapy, mental health care, surgical options, pregnancy and fertility care, specialist care, you name it."
Croft said that the UNC Transgender Health Program allows patients to be connected with providers that will be able to meet individualized needs.
“The way that we have set up this program specifically is so that patients can contact us, we assess what they need, then we hook them up with providers either within or sometimes even outside of the UNC system that are trans-affirming and able to provide the best care,” Croft said.
Plume could help patients who lack access to care due to their circumstances, she said.
“The biggest benefit I see from something like that has to do with patients who don’t have the ability to see a provider because they’re underinsured, or because they’re in really rural areas and just don’t have providers near them,” Croft said.
Though there are limitations to the services that can be provided through telehealth, Croft said, hormone therapy can be effectively managed virtually.
“Overall, I think that using telehealth helps get care to areas that would have a difficult time getting it otherwise,” Croft said.
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