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It’s long been known that women’s health and the care of it is underfunded and overlooked, l...
It’s long been known that women’s health and the care of it is underfunded and overlooked, leading to a knowledge gap on conditions and health outcomes that primarily affect women.
For instance, around the globe, 10% of women have endometriosis, yet it takes an average of 10 years to get diagnosed, and this delay in diagnoses has remained the same for over 20 years. What’s more, 84% of women feel unheard by healthcare professionals (HCPs), with many reporting that their symptoms are often dismissed.
Even in clinical trials and research, women are widely underrepresented even though they account for half of the world’s population. That means there’s a whole heap of unmet needs in women’s health.
With the upsurge of technological innovations and the COVID-19 pandemic acting as a catalyst, those in the Medical Technology space have begun putting their expertise and attention towards filling in the gaps that have not yet been addressed by Biopharma and Medical Device companies, meeting the healthcare needs of women with specifically designed technologies, products and services.
Today, we’ll be looking into the rise of FemTech, the digital health technologies it incorporates, the benefits and barriers of this new market, and how the industry is expanding and providing a more promising future for women’s health.
The term FemTech was first coined together in 2016 by Ida Tin, founder of the menstruation-tracking app, Clue. Today, however, FemTech has grown to encompass a range of technology-enabled consumer-centric solutions that address women’s unmet healthcare needs.
For the most part, the solutions have been built to address and improve care for a number of female-specific conditions, such as maternal health, menstrual health, pelvic and sexual health, fertility, menopause, and contraception, as well as several general health illnesses that disproportionately affect women.
In this blog, we’ll be focusing on FemTech’s digital health technologies, including mHealth apps, telemedicine, wearables, and digital therapeutics (DTx).
mHealth – short for mobile health – pertains to the practice of supporting medicine and public health through smartphones and wireless technology.
As you might have guessed, mHealth is actually one of the largest segments of FemTech, providing a private and convenient way for women to manage and make informed decisions on their healthcare.
The apps already provide diverse functionalities, from preventative behavior changes to diagnostic capabilities. Still, it’s been reported that the potential for collected data to facilitate earlier detection of diseases is enormous.
One example of a mHealth app that’s captured the attention of women across the globe is Clue. The menstrual tracking app incorporates features that help with infertility, pregnancy, and birth control, allowing users to log their period cycles, symptoms, and moods. From this data, the app is able to predict the onset of users’ next cycle and offer personalized predictions and recommendations for their menstrual health.
Since Clue was launched in 2013, its gained 11 million users in over 190 countries and has received FDA clearance as a dependable birth control digital product.
For many of us, wearable technology has become a regular part of everyday life, enabling continuous monitoring of health metrics by providing real-time data and insights. In FemTech specifically, wearables have been found to lead to earlier detection of potential health issues for women.
That’s because as the field has evolved, wearable technology has become smarter, incorporating more sensors to integrate medical-specific functions, allowing devices to move away from general tracking and focus on more specialized and specific clinical outcomes.
So while Apple watches and FitBits compete for attention in the fitness and well-being space, FemTech has developed its own wearable, which has transformed women’s health. Ava, a wearable bracelet, tracks women’s menstrual cycles and provides insights into fertility, pregnancy, and wearers’ overall health.
The Ava bracelet only needs to be worn at night, and the technology uses sensors to collect over three million data points around physiological factors, including skin temperature, resting heart rate, breathing rate, and movement.
The award-winning device is currently available in 36 countries and has helped over 50,000 women become pregnant, which led to the FDA clearing it as the first and only fertility-tracking wearable.
DTx, or digital therapeutics, are software-based management tools that sit within the broader digital health and mHealth landscape. They’re known for delivering evidence-based therapies that empower patients to remotely prevent, manage, or treat a wide range of conditions.
At the moment, DTx products can be prescribed as a standalone treatment or in conjunction with other traditional therapies and devices to optimize health outcomes.
For example, Axena’s Leva Pelvic Health System is an easy-to-use at-home prescription DTx that has been proven to effectively help women strengthen their pelvic floor muscles. Essentially, its sensors communicate with the Leva app to give users real-time feedback and guide them through therapy sessions.
After being reviewed in numerous clinical studies, the Leva Pelvic Health System has been found to be statistically and clinically superior to Kegel exercises alone. This information led to the digital solution being FDA-cleared for both stress-derived urinary incontinence and chronic bowel incontinence and has provided at-home treatment to over 12 million women in the US.
Telemedicine has emerged as a game-changer in the world of FemTech, specifically for women who have issues accessing traditional healthcare services. It works by utilizing audio-visual telecommunications technology to create real-time two-way interactions between patients and HCPs.
Generally, standalone telemedicine platforms are available on smartphones, tablets, and computers, and it’s been said that they could truly revolutionize the ways in which women across the globe receive medical care.
For example, Maven Clinic, a telehealth platform that provides comprehensive medical care for women and families, has supported over 15 million members in over 175 countries. The digital clinic operates through a secure online platform that enables patients to book appointments with medical professionals, access their medical records, and pick up prescriptions.In fact, the company is the first women’s health company in the US to reach unicorn status, being valued at over $1 billion after partnering with Blue Shield of California and receiving investment from the legendary Oprah Winfrey.
First and foremost, FemTech really emphasizes the different health experiences women have in comparison to men, increasing awareness and reducing the stigma of female-specific health conditions.
Currently, 85% of women feel comfortable talking to HCPs about their general health concerns, but that number drops to 77% for menstrual well-being, 64% for menopause, and 59% for mental health.
By providing alternative solutions, FemTech offers women improved access to more healthcare products and services, which can be more convenient and affordable for those living in remote areas, facing cultural restrictions, having limited access to traditional healthcare services, suffering from domestic abuse, or having busy schedules.
FemTech also empowers women to take control over their own health and well-being while offering personalized healthcare options.
At the moment, there’s a struggle for startups in the space to acquire funding for their required evidence to get their products and solutions moving forward. Part of the reason for the lack of funding is the shortage of regulatory oversight, which can potentially put women at risk of using unsafe products.
See, many products within the FemTech space are not necessarily medical devices but consumer products. That means that the FemTech sector is not subject to strict regulations like other areas of Life Sciences, and this level of regulatory uncertainty leaves it difficult to ascertain which products are safe and effective and which are not.
Data privacy and security are also a concern for the industry because a lot of these solutions do require users’ personal, private, and sensitive information to work accurately. The risk is that the more digitized the healthcare industry becomes, the more prone it is to cyberattacks accessing patient data.
One of the biggest trends within Femtech is that more and more female entrepreneurs are launching FemTech businesses because they understand the needs of their target market and can create tailored solutions to meet those needs. At the moment, 70% of FemTech companies have at least one female founder compared to the 20% norm of other new companies.
As the industry grows, investors are recognizing the potential and the social impact of FemTech solutions, with an increased awareness of women’s health issues, the impact of the pandemic on the digitalization of healthcare, as well as the growing demand for personalized therapies.
In fact, it’s been predicted that the global FemTech market will grow from over $6 billion in 2023 to over $20 billion by 2030.
With that said, in comparison to other areas of Med Tech and Health Tech, today’s FemTech space still faces several obstacles when it comes to funding, even though 70% of physicians across the US, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Japan say they would recommend FemTech solutions to their patients.
Some of the biggest barriers comes down to the hesitation of male-dominated VC firms and limited support and investment from the wider Life Sciences industries. But that’s not to say other businesses aren’t collaborating in strategic partnerships with FemTech companies. For example, L’Oréal, a cosmetics industry leader, revealed they’ve partnered with Clue to deepen scientific knowledge of the relationship between skin health and menstrual cycles.
The NHS also partnered with LV to ensure its device is freely available to help those suffering from urinary incontinence – particularly new mothers.
AI and Big Data already play an important role in FemTech solutions. However, as software gets smarter, it has enormous potential to revolutionize how women’s health is addressed by analyzing data from wearable devices and trackers, which could lead to better monitoring of diseases, insight into disease-risk prediction, and earlier detection.
What’s more, as HCPs explore alternatives to in-person care, VR could be leveraged to ease the strain on underfunded and overwhelmed healthcare systems across the globe. Right now, the use of VR in FemTech is in its infancy, but it does have the potential to provide a more engaging way of supporting women in managing their health.
FemTech has already significantly disrupted the world of healthcare by enhancing care delivery, promoting self-care, improving diagnoses, addressing stigmatized and sensitive areas, and delivering tailored and culturally appropriate care.
As we look forward, with ever-evolving digital trends and increasing consciousness about women’s healthcare issues, ongoing consumer-centric developments in FemTech have the ability to drive positive social change and truly revolutionize the future of healthcare for women.
For that reason, we can’t deny that FemTech will continue to expand and establish itself as a primary Medical and Health Tech sector in its own right. After all, women’s health is not a niche market, and more attention on female-specific conditions is very much needed.
But, we must also note that if the FemTech industry is going to truly reach its full potential, the current issues, such as the lack of regulatory oversight, concerns over data privacy, and ensuring safety and efficacy of these digital solutions, must be addressed.
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