1984 College graduate Lauren Bogen founded Dr Hen Says, a company that provides accessible, accurate health information about stigmatized topics.
The company — which is represented by a gender-neutral cartoon character, Dr Hen — publishes content across various social media platforms and discusses a breadth of health-related topics. The company uses short video clips and illustrated comics to publish information about topics such as the genetic basis of obesity and gender dysphoria.
About eight years ago, Bogen, who studied art at Penn, was asked to design a logo for the medical app Halza. She said the result, “Dr Hen,” evolved into its own brand, which spread to Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, and TikTok.
According to Bogen, the idea for Dr Hen came from the Swedish gender-neutral pronoun Hen, which debuted in 2012, to eliminate gender biases in employment.
“[Hen] not only symbolizes gender neutrality, but it’s something that you can see in our work,” Vivian Tan, Dr Hen’s brand manager, said.
Destigmatizing taboo health topics and initiating conversations is the company's goal, Bogen said. She said she recalls her mother's difficulty in talking about her Type I Diabetes, and believes that if she had been more open with her doctors, she could still have been alive today.
Though Dr Hen Says does not aim to give medical advice, the company hopes to encourage patients to be more open with their doctors. Tan said that people often feel more comfortable opening up to animated doctors, which can serve as good practice for open communication with real medical providers.
The company has a medical team to guide and advise the discussion about health topics, providing only evidence-based information. Along with input from the medical team, Dr Hen Says has partnerships with various health organizations, such as UNICEF and the Elton John AIDS foundation.
“We’re not going to be like WebMD or platforms that just throw symptoms at you … by working with all these bigger names out there, this shows that what we are doing [here] is credible,” Tan said.
College junior and marketing assistant for Dr Hen Says Madison Holler said she was drawn to the company because of her personal experiences with healthcare and health information.
“As a low-income person, I didn’t necessarily have direct access to doctors all the time," Holler said. "That audience that Dr Hen is speaking to about medical gaslighting and other topics — I am in their audience. Growing up, I never had access to friendly and informative information."
In her role, Holler helps to further Dr Hen Says’ image as a company that fights misinformation and promotes health education using an approachable character.
“We see ourselves as a platform where people can get reliable and not scary information about [their health],” she said. The company’s audience particularly includes disadvantaged populations in the United States — groups that are medically discriminated against.
While Dr Hen’s content is focused on the U.S., the company still works to reach users globally. Although health and healthcare look different across the globe, Dr Hen Says tries to make its content applicable to a large audience, Holler explained.
Bogen, who also emphasizes the company’s international focus, credits her global thinking to her time at Penn. As an undergraduate, she lived in a program of international students and practiced communicating with people of different backgrounds. Here, she said she learned “tolerance and understanding.”
“When you try something new [referencing founding a company that uses animations to discuss health conditions], people are very quick to say no … [I needed] the backbone to persevere and stick with my convictions. Honestly, I really think that's a Penn student [trait],” Bogen said.
Bogen and Tan said they have felt impacts of Dr Hen Says’s work through user engagement. They frequently receive messages from users with requests to cover new topics, most recently including sickle cell disease and long-COVID, and appreciation for the comfort and ease they now feel when discussing their health.
“Health is a shared experience,” Bogen said, reflecting on the company’s desire to inform a diverse audience. “The more information you have, the healthier you can try to be.”