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Healthcare Inclusion Innovation

Women’s Problems: Can FemTech Offer Relief?

Image courtesy of Clue

Jane Sarasohn-Kahn, who writes regularly about the health care ecosystem on her site, Health Populi, has been focused on the “She-cession”–how women who have left the workforce in record numbers during the pandemic have been impacted economically. Unlike in the 2008 crisis, she says, when men bore the economic brunt of the downturn, this one particularly affected women, who were more likely to work out of the home and often unable to work remotely. Their jobs were frequently hands-on, “up-close-and-personal,” and less likely to part of the work-from-home knowledge economy that so quickly transitioned to Zoom-life. According to The19th, a news site on gender, politics and policy, the pandemic brought women double-digit unemployment, increasing hours of child care and more home-bound tasks. In just a few months, the 19th calculated, women lost a decade of economic advancements. 

All of this is what Sarasohn-Kahn calls “the new home economics.” It means, she says, major change in how women are caring for themselves and their families. In terms of health care, Sarasohn-Kahn  sees less reliance on traditional face-to-face, real-time doctor visits and more demand for community-based services (like at retail pharmacies or grocery stores) along with increasing self-care at home.

And women have taken to social networks for managing health conditions. For example, Health Union recently acquired the patient activist community WEGO Health and built its first patient community on Migraine.Com, largely focusing on women who deal with headache pain. In the wake of COVID-19, women began to self-organize, into things like the patient-led long haul Covid study or the 42,000-member Facebook Covid Group. Susannah Fox says women are engaging in “peer-to-peer healthcare”.

Welcome The Femtech Revolution

Femtech is loosely described as software, diagnostics, products and services that use technology to support women’s health. The term is attributed to an early founder, Ida Tin. She coined the term to help her talk to mostly male investors about her product, Clue, a period tracking app. The bulk of Femtech companies focus on fertility, maternal health, reproduction, and birth control. But women who track Femtech feel many other issues are ignored or pooh-poohed by doctors, especially issues that affect older women, like menopause. It’s well known that women’s symptoms are different than men’s even for things like heart attacks, yet doctors often disregard the difference.

That might change as the health care industry begins to recognize a missed opportunity. Women, it turns out, live longer, spend more on health, make 90% of the family health decisions, and on and on.  Frost & Sullivan predicts Femtech has a market potential of $50B by 2025, while FemTech Focus, a not-for-profit that tracks such products, estimates this number could be much vaster over time–closer to $3 trillion. But they define the femtech universe of products much more broadly, to include things like bone health, oncology and brain health.

Image Courtesy of Frost and Sullivan

Market watchers will want to subscribe to the  FemtechInsider, which covers founders, startups, jobs, investments and general news about the industry.

I checked in with Lygeia Ricciardi, founder of AdaRose, a community dedicated to helping women take control of their health issues, and Jill Gilbert, founder of the brand new Hello You Collective, and producer of the Digital Health Summit at CES for many years. (I worked with her there.)  Both are staunch advocates of giving women a platform and community to discuss health. I asked them to talk about a few of their  favorite products on their radar.

Gilbert believes women want a safe space where they can be taken seriously and become educated, feeling comfortable in a community. She also believes “one size” doesn’t fit all and faults doctors with not looking holistically at patients.

Who’s Gilbert watching?

Nurx: Direct-to-consumer birth control (pill, patch, ring or shot) delivered to your home for a fraction of the price and none of the time spent running to doctors and pharmacies.

Gennev Works with menopausal women, either through coaching, telehealth or medication.  It’s got a huge community and plenty of women helping women.

Maven:  A full health care system for women and their families built on a telehealth platform that promises better care, better outcomes, and lower costs. It’s also working directly with employers to help retain women employees by offering great health benefits.

Wildflower Health: Working with women and clinicians to offer a suite of tools and resources for women’s health.

Kindbody:  Making fertility treatments inclusive, and not just for the 1%.  Services include specialized IVF and egg freezing. It specifically caters to LGBTQ communities as well.

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Ricciardi’s take is that women’s healthcare has focused almost exclusively on the childbearing years. She sees a political dynamic with the implied message that once you’re infertile your medical needs can go unaddressed.

Who’s Ricciardi watching?

Parsley Health Takes a holistic view of health, monitoring and testing everything from biomes to food sensitivity and cortical levels.  Parsley is interested in helping those with chronic conditions who might be ignored by more traditional medical approaches.

Organon: A Merck spinoff focusing on women’s health, with an emphasis on pharmaceuticals tailored to individuals.

Hers: Women’s health products and services that are a bit taboo elsewhere, including condoms, lubricants, urinary tract powders and more.

These three powerful women convinced me the medical profession has left a gaping hole in servicing its largest segment, women. For the most part, doctors still operate less holistically and more with a checklist of symptoms. Women are demanding personalized solutions to complex problems.  This is as much a political and policy problem as a health problem. Here’s hoping Femtech services and products like these can democratize access to health care for women. (Now, will someone please invent a less barbaric mammogram machine?  That’s my fervent hope.)

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