Still Here, Still Proud: Eidos LGBTQ+ Health Initiative

As June draws to a close, we’re musing on what we’ve learned from the four healthcare startup companies we’ve explored this month. All four were founded and are led by LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs. All four have made it their mission to improve access to – and the quality of – healthcare for the LGBTQ+ community. All four are standing up in this fraught political climate and saying, Every patient deserves to be treated with respect. Gender-affirming care matters. We can make it happen.

Plume and FOLX make it easier for LGBTQ+ patients to get gender-affirming care and hormone therapy from the comfort of home. QSPACES provides a crowd-sourced platform for LGBTQ+ patients and allies to find and review doctors, therapists, dentists, and alternative care providers who treat them with respect and genuine care. Violet helps healthcare providers assess their cultural competency and gives them access to training. All of these companies are solving problems that LGBTQ+ patients are facing right now. But what does the future hold?

Today, we peer into that future with Eidos (pronounced AY-dos). Eidos is a think-tank and connector that pushes for research into LGBTQ+ health concerns. This matters, because LGBTQ+ health – especially anything that isn’t HIV-related – tends to be poorly funded. Even the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a critical source of medical research funding, has only dedicated a tiny percentage of grant dollars to LGBTQ+ health research. Eidos aims to innovate where others won’t.

Eidos LGBTQ+ Health Initiative at the University of Pennsylvania

Founded: January 2022

Founded and currently led by: Dr. José Bauermeister, Founding Faculty Director (he/him) and Jessica Halem, Senior Director (she/her)

What services does Eidos provide?

Founding faculty director Dr. José Bauermeister summed up the organization’s mission like so:

I think we’re pretty good at identifying what has gotten us sick. …it’s time to think about how we’re going to solve that.

How do complex social and health problems get solved? First, by getting the right people into the metaphorical room. Eidos has pulled together a diverse, robust, and interdisciplinary team. They have faculty not only from Penn’s schools of Medicine and Nursing, but also from the schools of Communication, Arts and Sciences, Design, Social Policy, Engineering and Applied Sciences, and the Wharton business school.

But academia is just one part of Eidos. They also work with members of the healthcare, business, policy, and government sectors. By reaching out to LGBTQ+ communities, they also ensure that their innovations actually work for their target population.

Having the right people is only one part of the equation, though: action is essential. Eidos works through problems systematically, starting with discovery. They mine innovative health research and business ideas for solutions. The next steps are advising, education, and evaluation. Eidos members design projects and programs, build training in LGBTQ+ healthcare, and examine existing programs and interventions. They seek to make new research available to the populations who need it and develop new products.

Finally, Eidos ensures their impact by inspecting those new programs and projects. They need to be not only scalable, sustainable, and marketable, but also need to measurably improve the wellbeing of LGBTQ+ patients.

What makes Eidos special?

Eidos is an organization that represents hope. As we’ve learned this month, the LGBTQ+ community has been stigmatized even within healthcare. They have not been prioritized in medical research. Their needs are so often ignored. But Eidos shows that there is structural support for LGBTQ+ health research and solutions, and that many people have dedicated their lives to this mission.

So far, Eidos has supported a number of exciting projects for LGBTQ+ health. For example, their team worked on the TRACE app, built for transgender and non-binary people who are currently in transition. The app gives them a safe place to build community and track their journey.

The Eidos team also worked on Project SLIP, which sought to create a better condom – one that would be comfortable and protective enough to be used regularly. By using hydrogels, the team created a patented product that is extremely strong, inherently lubricated, and can even be infused with HIV PrEP or treatment medications.

Overall, Eidos shows us how LGBTQ+ healthcare can succeed. They’re building upon the strengths of the community itself by tapping into its resilience and endless innovation. But they’ve also recognized that improving the health and wellbeing of any one group is not that group’s responsibility alone. Solutions need to be interdisciplinary and connect many sectors in order to succeed.

After all, we all benefit when the people around us have access to good healthcare. If there’s any lesson to take from Pride 2023, let it be that: healthcare should be for everyone. It’s everyone’s job to make sure the people around us receive the care they need.