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December 1, 2022

December 1, 2022

Women’s Health Digitised: How FemTech is Adapting to Today’s Challenges

Developments in FemTech are revolutionising how women address their health needs. In this blog post written by Anna Morville, we examine some of the solutions FemTech startups are generating in today’s health climate. We also discuss how PUBLIC and government institutions can better support FemTech going forward, and reflect on some startups who are committed to creating safe, patient-focused women’s health solutions.

It’s the worst kept secret that the modern healthcare state fails to adequately address women’s health, care, and wellness. According to the latest report from the Maternal Newborn and Infant Clinical Outcome Review Programme at Oxford University, there was a 24% increase in deaths during or up to 6 weeks after pregnancy between 2018-2019. In 2020, women were three times more likely to die by suicide during or up to six weeks after the end of pregnancy compared to 2017-19. These statistics are likely an associated effect of the COVID-19 quarantine period, where many expecting women experienced isolating pregnancies as baby showers, family visits, and partner-deliveries were cancelled in favour of managing the infection rate. This confinement led to a decrease in mental health according to the University of Michigan, who reported that 1 in 3 women who gave birth in the first 6 months of the pandemic experienced postnatal depression. 

Today, the cost-of-living crisis further exacerbates the mental health decline according to 66% of therapists, who argue that people are cutting back on health-focused activities like gym memberships and therapy in order to finance the current economic downturn. In the Women’s Health Plan published last August, the NHS responded to calls for more attention towards women’s health. In their 10-year plan, they aim to expand research on women’s health and start considering technological solutions as supplements to treatment: there are many opportunities to do this as FemTech expands into the GovTech sector. 

What is FemTech, and Why is it important? 

FemTech offers solutions to address mental, fertility, sexual, and period health needs. For example, Canopie is an app that offers a 12-minute-a-day research-based plan for new parents to access postnatal treatment. Canopie takes a preventative approach to healthcare that aims to treat physical conditions that manifest from untreated depression and anxiety, like early-term birth or preeclampsia. Inne, another fast-growth FemTech solution, is an at-home fertility tracker that uses saliva to monitor hormone levels that provides fast, accurate results, helping women through making fertility information more accessible. 

While FemTech is considered relatively young, it maintains high potential for growth in the next ten years. While the market was estimated to be worth around $51 billion in 2021, Precedence Research expects it to reach $103 Billion by 2030. This is due to a multitude of reasons, for example, the growing regard for women’s health issues in society. Additionally, an increase in digital literacy and infrastructure facilitates the spread of technology amongst women. 

What Challenges is the FemTech sector facing? 

Alongside the market’s current success, FemTech companies are currently championing challenges to the sector through creative problem solving and innovation: 

FemTech developers are addressing patient concerns around trust, security, and privacy around their data through incorporating “Safety by Design” elements

Apps that track user’s emotional and physical data must consider information and privacy concerns—especially when they operate in countries with prohibitive laws surrounding women’s health and fertility. For example, many women deleted period tracking apps from their phones following the overturning of Roe v. Wade in the United States. In specific states where abortion is now illegal, this personal health data could be used to prosecute women in abortion-related trials. As a result, there is a greater need for comprehensive sharing permissions in apps that collect sensitive information. In response, we have seen a pick-up of “Safety by Design” principles and developments across FemTech solutions. Last June, a period-tracking app called Flo unveiled an “anonymous” mode which allows users to access all app features without inputting a name, or email address. As the pressure for thorough data protection policy builds, FemTech companies are responding by rolling out safe and accessible models of their products. 

Embedding inclusive research practices driven by operating with limited research into women’s health issues

According to the UK women’s health strategy, there is currently less viable research into how health conditions present in men and women differently. There is also limited data available on women’s health issues specifically, such as fertility and reproductive conditions. As a result, FemTech startups prioritise inclusive research in order to remain relevant and create innovative solutions to solve complicated health conditions for their target users. Startups like Evvy empower their patients to learn more about their gynaecological health through at-home testing kits that can reveal a user’s risk for conditions like Toxic Shock Syndrome and Uterine Cancer. Solutions like these contribute to general research surrounding women’s health while empowering the individual to learn more about their body.

FemTech companies make “the uncomfortable comfortable” with creative campaigns driving user engagement, education, and investment  

Traditionally, women’s health issues are not widely discussed or known across our own communities, let alone the market. Since FemTech companies often solve problems which are less-talked about in business, many businesses have an extra hurdle to user engagement, understanding, and investment buy-in. Many companies are working to overcome this barrier with creative campaigns that make conversations about women’s health more accessible and support education initiatives. One Canadian period pain relief company called Somedays recently went viral after sharing videos where they tested their period pain simulator on men. Videos like these start conversations that normalise issues in women’s health. FemTech companies are also taking initiatives to better educate their users. One company called Moody Month is a daily tracker app that educates women about how their hormones may be affecting their mental health and moods. They offer expert articles and essays answering women’s questions about their health needs, and how factors like food and exercise can help generate wellness. Alternatively, Hey Girls is working to equip educators with comprehensive knowledge of how to teach period education, in order to better equip the next generation.

How Can We Overcome these Challenges Together? 

There are a range of actions that supporting research bodies, VC’s, organisations, and government bodies can take to support other FemTech companies to adopt these practices and help the ecosystem overcome other barriers to development and investment.  

  1. Learn about it: Expand on government research regarding challenges to women’s health and where FemTech can be used as a solution or supplement to aid mental health, fertility, sexual health, and period health.
  2. Talk about it: Support creative and engaging campaigns in creating safe spaces to talk about issues related to women’s health and educate communities. 
  3. Work together: Grow and convene the FemTech ecosystem and work across sectors like SafetyTech and EduTech to expand reach and further develop holistic solutions addressing intersectional issues.

These are just a few of the startups who are adapting after the COVID-19 pandemic revealed areas where women’s healthcare systems fail to address the demand for efficient-patient led care. Ultimately, FemTech companies of today are spearheading innovative solutions that meet user needs, are holistic in approach, and are dedicated to addressing deep-rooted issues.

If you would like to learn more about how PUBLIC is supporting FemTech, please get in touch at francesa.testa@public.io 

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