Former Adobe exec's startup seeks to improve the mammogram experience

Former Adobe exec's startup seeks to improve the mammogram experience

SAN FRANCISCO - Former Adobe chief medical officer Melissa Dyrdahl hopes to bring a spa-like feel to the experience of breast cancer screenings.

Her startup, Ella Health, has opened seven mammogram centres across the United States, in places ranging from Toms River, New Jersey to San Francisco. Ella's pitch: to improve the often nerve-wracking process so women will not skip their annual mammogram.

"We want women to feel like they're in a spa, not a cold and clinical hospital," Dyrdahl, who is chief executive of the company, said in an interview. For instance, Ella reminds its technicians to be "warm and caring" and gives patients a private dressing room and heated cloth robe.

In recent years, the company has secured capital to purchase 3D mammography units and offer a test that takes X-rays at different angles of the breast. At some US$450,000 (S$580,000), the equipment is far more expensive than standard mammography units.

Dyrdahl, also a former marketing director at Apple Inc, said she joined the company after years of "terrible" mammogram experiences. Dyrdahl is herself a breast cancer survivor.

The American Cancer Society recommends that women over 40 get annual mammograms, but researchers have found that 50 per cent of women with insurance opt out, even though most women in that age range are not responsible for additional out-of-pocket costs.

Ella Health is marketing its service to smaller, independent obstetricians and gynaecologists, as well as directly to female patients.

It is branching out into other areas of women's health. It recently launched a physical therapy service linked to major life events, such as pregnancy and menopause. Dyrdahl said she is also exploring mental and sexual health.

Ella Health has raised funding from Polaris Venture Partners in Boston, CHL Medical Partners and private investors. The company is planning to raise additional funding in the coming year to fuel expansion across the United States.

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