Gnarly yeast infections. Abnormal discharge. STD testing. Emergency birth control. Burning sexual and vaginal health questions that simply should not be answered by forums or well-meaning TikTok influencers. Given Singapore’s world-class medical facilities and our pivot to digital medical consultations, online platforms zooming-in on sexual health seems like the next natural, inclusive and cost-effective option over its brick-and-mortar counterparts. One thing that these online platforms has over your local clinic: the discretion and the affordable consult fees that typically come with virtual facetimes with your doctor. Aside from taking the edge off awkward interactions with clinicians and fellow patients, these digital clinics assemble frank, open-minded doctors trained at broaching touchy topics—separating sexual health from the shame, stigma, or embarrassment often ingrained by religious or conservative cultural values.
Ticking all the right boxes for virtual consults, Dear Doc is an online platform created by Asian women for Asian women, to offer convenient, affordable, and judgement-free support to patients. Woman doctors forming Dear Doc’s lineup offer discrete consults via video calls, with medication then being discretely delivered or refilled—that includes birth control solutions, such as birth control pills, patch, and emergency contraception, due to the large unmet need.
“Growing up in a typical Asian family, and living in countries like India, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore, I observed many social, cultural, and religious barriers that prevent women from getting the healthcare they need,” says founder Shruti Dwivedi on Dear Doc, an all-women team of marketing, medical, and operations experts.
“Since many sexual and reproductive health topics are taboo and highly stigmatised, women often hesitate to seek medical care as they are afraid of being judged by their family, peers, and even doctors, especially if they are not married.
“Those who are shy, or not used to discussing these topics openly, often feel uncomfortable having these conversations with a male doctor. This awkwardness and the fear of judgment prevents many women from getting the medical care they need,” Dwivedi explains.
“With Dear Doc, women can get expert medical care from the comfort and privacy of their homes, so there is no fear of being ‘exposed’ and judged by family or peers. Moreover, all the doctors consulting through Dear Doc are female. They are General Practitioners with strong expertise and interest in problems related to women’s health. Given their extensive experience in this area, they fully understand the sensitivity of topics involving sexual and reproductive health and have a completely non-judgmental approach towards handling these,” says Dwivedi on Dear Doc’s safe environment for users to openly share their problems.
Dear Doc shares that the most pressing concern plaguing its users is finding help with the best birth control options for them, based on their preferences, health profile, medical history and yes, budget. “We see a huge gap in the level of knowledge and awareness on different birth control methods, how to use them, and the benefits and disadvantages of each method.”
With the aim of building a safe and inclusive space for its diverse clientele, Dear Doc practitioners only ask details that a relevant for providing medical care, excluding potentially invasive questions related to ethnicity, religion and marital status. These are “not required when assessing a person’s health, or deciding which birth control option or medication is right for them. We believe that questions like these create a perception of judgement and, as a result, a barrier between the person seeking medical care and the medical care provider,” says Dwivedi whose mandate is all about breaking barriers to proper and fair healthcare.
Dear Doc charges a one-time consult fee for birth control at $20 with a service fee of $15 – $45 and free standard delivery of medication. www.dear-doc.com
Founded in 2020, Ferne Health is a tele-health startup that offers private healthcare screening solutions for sexual health. The virtual and at-home testing kit services means discrete and rigorous screening for STIs in the total privacy of your space. Other screenings include tests for STDs (HIV, Syphilis, Gonorrhea & Chlamydia), Women Health Screenings (Yeast Infections, Bacterial Vaginosis, Candida), and Cervical Cancer Screenings (HPV). These all-inclusive experiences mean Ferne also provides post-screening support and medication if treatment is required. Best of all, at your request, it even offers an anonymous messaging service to reach out to sexual partners of the past month to notify them of their potential exposure to an STD.
“Before starting Ferne Health, we held interviews and surveys with many women in their late twenties who have never visited a gynaecologist or had a pap-smear because they didn’t think it was necessary, or they were too shy to talk about their sexual activity,” says Xi Liu, founder of Ferne Health. “Women who grow up in Asia may have experienced pushback when speaking out about their bodies. There is also a lack of information out there when it comes to sexual health education and some people have avoided doctors and testing because they are not aware of the importance—it is a cultural taboo to think about it, let alone discuss it. We wanted to find a way to encourage women to prioritise their health and speak out confidently about their needs and concerns.”
Other community groups stand to benefit from Ferne and other similar tele-health services. “The LGBTQ+ community are another group who suffer in silence due to the fear of being judged by their doctor, or being told they don’t need to take certain sexual health tests because they are not having sexual intercourse. This is a big reason why Ferne Health was founded,” says Liu on why Ferne’s roster of doctors and professionals have pledged to be LGBTQ affirming.
A 15 minute STD or women’s health teleconsult costs $20. www.fernehealth.com
Beyond being an online GP, WhiteCoat‘s services also extends to support for sexual health and women’s health, with its doctors able to treat and manage conditions such as STD and STI testing via video consults.
“We do have escalation processes in-place as well; this includes referral of patients to other physical clinics, hospitals, and emergency services as necessary. The rule of thumb is that all emergency conditions should be addressed in a physical setting,” says WhiteCoat’s marketing director, Winnie Yee.
“Some of the more common female health issues our patients consult our doctors for include Dysmenorrhoea (period cramps) and UTIs (urinary tract infections),” says chief marketing officer, Justin Chow. “We are also able to advise on the use and suitability of contraceptives and other lesser-encountered conditions relating to female health that can be addressed at GP-level, rather than a full escalation to OBGY/ SP care. That said, we continue to be a first port-of-call for all general health issues, and can also provide referrals and necessary escalations to more advanced forms of care when required.”
Consultations are at $25 during office hours and $35 after office hours, with fees excluding medication, delivery charges and GST. www.whitecoat.com.sg