Population and Public Health

How Femtech is Advancing Women’s Health

Improving women’s health with technology

As gender becomes more widely addressed in conversations about health disparities, so does femtech’s power to advance women’s health.

Femtech refers to end-to-end technical solutions that address female health needs exclusively, including diagnostic tools, software, mobile apps and wearables. Funding in this sector continues to increase; according to a Rock Health report, it increased as much as 812% from 2014 to 2018. It holds massive potential to break the barriers contributing to health disparities, but it’s taken time to garner focus on the topic. Here’s why.

Gender Barriers in Healthcare

There’s a storied history that has led to the evolution of female-focused technology in healthcare, and the industry continues to address the challenges identified along the way.

In the early 90s the U.S. Food and Drug Administration lifted its ban on women participating in clinical research trials. Though the policy, implemented in 1977, was initiated in efforts to protect women from pregnancy complications, the policy excluded all women from participating in clinical research studies, regardless of reproductive status.

Today healthcare products and services for women account for 4% of the overall funding for healthcare research and development.

EHRs lack focus on female health as well, explained Julia Skapik, MD, medical director of the National Association of Community Health Centers and HIMSS member. “We have several projects in the women’s health area right now around contraception, post-partum care… one of the things that we see is that there aren’t even basic data elements that support some aspects of women’s health.

“For example, there’s no requirement that a delivery date is available for a woman that’s experiencing pregnancy. In fact, there aren't even shared pregnancy data elements endorsed by the federal government or that EHR vendors have agreed upon, which prevents easy data extraction or health IT solutions around pregnancy.”

When technical issues like these are addressed and resolved, better results can be delivered. “The American College of OBGYN worked to create a dashboard for pregnancy. They’re seeing reductions in neonatal ICU [intensive care units] rates that are pretty substantial.”

As its increasing market value would suggest, the industry has taken notice of the disparities and is working to address them. “There is an increasing shift of co-ownership and recognizing the value of other opinions,” Dr. Skapik continued. “And that’s both kind of a scientific value and, significantly, a financial value. I think that’s part of the reason that in the startup or venture capital space—there’s been a push to get not only more women on the investment side, but also to invest in startups that have women leadership or that have women as their target audience—and that as a specific domain, an opportunity through investment.”

The Value of Female-Focused Health Tech

Venture capital funding and investments across femtech amounted to $1.69 billion in the first half of 2019. It’s estimated that femtech will cross as much as $9 billion by 2024. This isn’t surprising, considering findings that women are 75% to 85% more likely than men to use digital tools for healthcare needs.

With such strong consumer engagement and so many different solutions available, it’s easy to see why so many different content areas relevant to women’s health are evolving.

  • Fertility solutions may be the most profitable example; the fertility industry has been projected to reach $41 billion in sales by 2026. Tracking apps can assist in family planning by alerting women when they are most fertile. These solutions can also help women with self-monitoring throughout the process of conceiving.
  • Menstrual care can also be supported through mobile tracking apps. By making record of the user’s menstrual cycle through consistent data input, both consumers and healthcare professionals can be empowered with more health information that can guide decision-making.
  • Nursing solutions are continuing to emerge that can help solve age-old challenges like finding the right time and place to nurse privately. “Breastfeeding is a big challenge for female surgeons,” Dr. Skapik said, citing an under-the-shirt breast pump as a solution. “It allows them to keep breastfeeding because they can have it on underneath their clothing and they can pump while they’re in the operating room.”
  • Pregnancy solutions continue to come to fruition, like a pocket-sized ultrasound machine. Additionally, a variety of mobile apps can assist women throughout their pregnancy and keep them connected to their healthcare professionals.
  • Sexual health is another area continuing to emerge with new mobile app solutions to help women obtain contraception, treat STDs and access sex education tools and resources.

Currently there are more than 3,000 app-based products focused exclusively on the health of women, according to a new market report by Research2Guidance. The report predicts that market revenue for the industry will reach $297 million by 2024.

“This idea of managing women’s health with digital services along the entire lifecycle of their reproductive phase and ages is what we expected to find, but this is not the case," Ralf Jahns, the director of Reasearch2Guidance, told MobiHealthNews. "Most of the companies [instead] focus on a segment—so just providing services for fertility, or providing services for pregnancy, or even for menopause. So, it is interesting, it is just the opposite of what we expected.”

Watch HIMSS TV featuring Rachel Blank, co-founder of Rory. The digital health clinic focuses exclusively on feminine health topics.

Thanks to telemedicine, today there are even more ways for women to stay informed about their health. Rachel Blank, co-founder of Rory, a virtual clinic, explained that when visiting her organization’s 24-hour virtual clinic, you respond to questions digitally versus face-to-face—and the questions change based on your answers. Then a physician reviews your information and contacts you to chat via video or phone.

Virtual visits can help alleviate discomfort that often accompany stigmatized topics, Blank explained to HIMSS TV. “Maybe [consumers] feel embarrassed to speak face-to-face with their physician. So now we give them a technology tool where they can interact with a physician in a way that feels more comfortable.”

Stigma may be the most difficult barrier to break, but solutions that empower women to stay engaged in their health have unlimited potential.

“I encourage companies that want to get into this space to ask women to be the designers and have ownership of solutions,” said Dr. Skapik. “There are a lot of barriers still in this domain that hopefully will start to improve in the next three to five years as we get some better levers for leveling the playing field.”

More women speaking freely about women’s health issues and embracing technology to improve their own health will be critical to continue momentum and amplify conversations on both the tangible and intangible value of femtech.

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