Femtech is one of the most truly disruptive healthcare innovations from the last 10 years. That might be hard to understand, though, if you think all it focuses on is period trackers and breast pumps.
Women are more than just a demographic making up half the population. They’re drivers of culture, society, communities, and yes—healthcare. Women go to the doctor more than men and even make most of the healthcare decisions in the home. Engaged women equates to better care for everyone.
A focus on women’s needs and perspectives in healthcare will likely result in a shift across the entire industry and even change the future of IT. To understand how that might pan out, it’s important to get a handle on what tech solutions are breaking ground by welcoming women to the world of healthcare tech.
The bones behind femtech
Understanding why women-centered tech is so revolutionary in the first place starts with a look at what healthcare currently looks like for women:
Most medical research is performed with men as subjects
Sexual and reproductive health challenges cause one third of health issues for women between 15 and 44 years old
Women are more likely to experience mental health challenges, like anxiety, depression, and somatic issues
Older women tend to have less access to healthcare and social services than men due to the amount of time spent working in the home
Women with chronic pain tend to suffer longer than men
A study from the Center for Talent Innovation revealed that women often play the role of “Chief Medical Officer” for their families, with 94 percent making decisions for themselves and almost 60 percent making decisions for others. At the same time, 58 percent lack confidence in their decision making, and many distrust the healthcare industry overall. All that amounts to an environment where a key decision-maker is often under-engaged, under-informed, and disconnected from the resources they—and the people they’re making decisions for—need most.
On top of this mountain sits the economic burden of women’s diseases, which is currently at $500 billion. Femtech is in a prime position to turn this around. Much like green tech and other sustainability programs, innovation around the health of women and girls has the ability to push the future of IT past existing as a reactive solution to problems and toward a position of continuous support in the lives of fundamental members of society. This trend can help make healthcare a more comfortable, productive experience and encourage all members of society to get past the stigma surrounding the health and access issues of women and girls.
The technology driving the change
The rise of femtech ultimately comes down to familiar players in the health tech and IT game being used in new ways to solve old problems for a long-neglected population. Here’s a look at how some of the technologies IT departments are already interested in are changing the world of women’s health.
AI might not be the most obvious player in femtech and the future of IT, but when you look at how women engage with healthcare providers, the potential for change starts to peek through. For example, AI-powered personalized doctor Ada works via a smartphone app and allows users to have conversations about their health and well-being and even receive an initial diagnosis they can take to their GP. Designed by doctors, it was given a woman’s voice, a simple feature addressing a big challenge in the industry.
Healthcare struggles with a bias against how women’s complaints of pain are addressed. Due to hormonal differences, smaller physical size, and higher body fat, women navigate a different medical environment—one largely molded to the needs of men. An impartial, AI-powered doctor has the potential to move past gendered conditioning.
By default, telemedicine helps improve access to the farthest corners of the globe. Some startups, like digital health clinic Maven, focus specifically on improving access to specialists in women’s health issues.
The mobile app opens up women’s access via instant video appointments and private messaging with qualified healthcare practitioners.
Period trackers are far from new, but tracking related data can put a dent in a relatively common women’s health issue.
Endometriosis affects 1 in 10 women but can take up to 10 years to diagnose. The condition can cause pain, irregular menstruation, and even infertility, so early detection is key. Period trackers allow women to document their period symptoms and accurately report them to the doctor, possibly increasing the chance of early detection.
In the case of the Elvie Kegel Trainer, an accelerometer and a feedback sensor are used to help women improve mind-body connection when doing kegels and even incorporates gamification to achieve true behavior modification.
When discussing femtech, what’s most important to keep in mind is perspective. These technologies aren’t just innovations for women. They’re steps forward in correcting long-standing problems that have held so much of healthcare—and the world in general—back from their full potential.