Healthcare has changed significantly over the past decade. With increasing research and technology, more advancements are being made in medicine. The use of social media by physicians and patients has also helped to increase awareness of different areas of medicine. One area that has been historically under-treated and under-recognized and is now reaping the benefits of these aforementioned changes is the field of women’s health.
As patients and physicians, women are now empowered to disrupt a healthcare system that has historically ignored their specific differences and needs. Women are increasingly creating solutions and spearheading startups to offer women-centric solutions. From AI-powered fertility trackers to cancer screenings to portable breast pumps, technology is transforming the future of healthcare for women.
History Of Women’s Health Research
Women make up approximately half of the population, yet the majority of modern medicine has been designed based on male anatomy. Historically, women and female subjects have also been underrepresented in clinical research. Most medications have been researched on male mice, completely discounting the hormonal and physiological differences of females that may result in drastic differences in dosage, metabolism, and side effects.
It wasn’t until 1993, when the US Congress passed the NIH Revitalization Act, that women were required to be included in clinical trials. It wasn’t until 2016 that NIH-funded researchers were asked to consider gender as a basic biological variable, use equal numbers of both sexes and perform statistical analysis for possible gender-based differences.
With this information, it is clear that we are drastically behind on advancements for women-centric solutions to healthcare problems, whether for medications or even within technological progress.
You may have been seeing the term “femtech” lately. It’s a term coined by the founder of the menstrual app Clue, Ida Tin. It refers to the sub-sector of healthcare technology that focuses on female healthcare, including those with similar health needs identifying as transgender or nonbinary.
Femtech is not new, but it is a growing field. As of the end of 2021, investments into femtech products and startups have surpassed $2 billion dollars. This reflects the growing interest from investors and the increasing emphasis on expanding women’s healthcare access and treatments. Despite this growth, however, investments in femtech still make up only a fraction of total healthtech.
Where Are Investments Being Made?
One area receiving a lot of attention is virtual care aimed at women, including those who are transgender and nonbinary. These virtual care services address their general health needs, plus those related to fertility.
Investments are also reaching menopause and perimenopause virtual care companies. Much of the efforts here are for educational purposes to help patients understand what they’re going through and to provide support.
Another investment focus is in digital therapeutics, which are software programs that aim to identify, prevent, and treat medical conditions. Examples include fertility monitoring apps, and devices designed to support pelvic floor muscles.
FemTech also includes treatment devices. Examples here include those that treat and prevent osteoporosis, alternative methods of birth control, and wearable breast pumps.
Why FemTech Investments Are Important
Femtech growth is an important indicator for women’s health improvement and can have multiple downstream benefits.
- Improved access to care – especially for underserved women and marginalized groups.
- Destigmatization of care – an important aspect of women’s health is discussing issues without judgment and prejudice. Investments in femtech can improve education and public exposure to female-specific issues.
- Upgrade self-care for women – wearable tech, health trackers, at-home diagnostics, and the like can make it easier to monitor female-specific health concerns.
- Improve care delivery – most femtech companies are led by women, who better understand what is missing within female healthcare and how to address it.
- Reduce gender inequality in innovation – femtech companies work with more female scientists and technicians, creating equal opportunity employment.
A Real-World Example Of FemTech Advancement
Mothers are the fastest-growing segment of the US Labor force, and approximately 70% of full-time employed mothers have children younger than three years old. One-third of these mothers return to work within 3 months after birth, after which breastfeeding mothers would have to pump to provide breast milk for their babies.
Full-time working mothers have significantly lower breastfeeding continuation rates and shorter duration of breastfeeding than those who continue to stay home with their babies. Maternal breastfeeding rates declined as maternal employment increased in the 1970s due to the difficulty maintaining pumping in the workplace. A significant barrier to pumping in the workplace is the need for a private space with an outlet and time constraints. Thanks to recent technologies within the women’s healthcare sector, numerous portable breast pumps have changed the pumping experience for working women with barriers to pumping in the workplace.
Portable breast pumps can address this pain point by increasing maternal breastfeeding continuation rates while overcoming barriers such as lack of space, time constraints, or traveling with cumbersome equipment. This can improve maternal mental health and encourage longer breastfeeding journeys for women.
Barriers To FemTech
While increased funding for certain companies has elevated femtech and made it a more visible niche, innovation and growth are still behind other healthtech sectors.
Many investment firms are run by male partners who are either not interested in femtech products, don’t see the niche as big enough or solving a big enough problem, or lack the knowledge of how these kinds of technologies can improve healthcare for women.
Many femtech products, such as apps and devices, store pertinent feminine health information. Privacy issues surrounding this can make it more difficult for companies to grow and convince investors that their privacy protocols work and that the product is a sound investment.
The Future of FemTech
Most companies and products for women’s health have focused on fertility and reproductive issues; however, many companies now focus on pregnancy-related technology assessing fetal heartbeats and maternal vital signs. There is also growing awareness and discourse around pre and post-menopause, paving the way for technology that helps educate women and support them through these phases.
Numerous other women-centric devices are taking over the medical device market, from sexual pleasure toys to temperature-sensing rings for ovulation to pelvic floor devices. Virtual reality (VR) is also gaining a foothold to help treat pain, with some VR apps stating they can even help with childbirth-related pain.
New research into women’s health issues is opening doors for investment opportunities, further spurring the development of technology and products that will improve women’s healthcare.
It is exciting to see the numerous technological advancements on the horizon for women’s healthcare and technology. While there is plenty of room for growth, it will take time to see which innovations will be practical and feasible to integrate with traditional healthcare.
Original post on Langar Holdings and republished with permission.