Femtech is a rapidly growing area of healthcare technology that focuses specifically on the health needs of women. Coyote Ventures estimates that the industry is worth about $1 trillion, bringing many new investors and technologies into the market.
In some ways, this technology heralds an exciting time for OB/GYN patients to have a focus on their health needs like never before. However, some research and development is still needed. Here is what physicians should know about women's health technology today and how it can benefit patients.
What Falls Under 'FemTech'?
The umbrella term encompasses any technology that focuses on women's health needs at any point in a patient's lifetime, including software, diagnostic tools, mobile apps and wearables. There is a great deal of innovation happening, with the potential to support patients from adolescence through post-menopause.
Menstruation apps have become increasingly common, as have reproductive health and fertility apps or technology. These make up the bulk of FemTech on the market right now. However, companies are also making solutions for sexual wellness, reproductive health, urinary health and heart disease prevention.
What Are Some Examples of These Technologies?
Clue is one of the earliest and most well-known period and fertility tracking apps. Now, a number of other companies are making remarkable strides, developing technology to screen or manage cancer, screen for endometriosis, or support women through menopause.
Bloomer Tech is working on a heart monitor bra to easily screen for heart disease in high-risk women. The American Heart Association reports that cardiovascular disease is a leading cause of death for cisgender women, whose symptoms present differently than those of cisgender men. Transgender women also have an elevated risk of heart attack — nearly double the risk of cisgender women, according to the American Heart Association.
Another company, Maven, offers a virtual clinic for women and families. Other startups' hands-free breast pumps, period underwear and bladder leakage products are all expanding the options to address issues that were once taboo.
What Role Does FemTech Play in Gynecology?
About 80% of FemTech startups are founded by women, according to Coyote Ventures. This enhanced focus on a specific patient population's health needs has the potential to improve health at all stages of life. The National Institutes of Health recommended excluding women "of childbearing potential" from clinical trials in the 1970s; clinical trials were not legally obligated to include women until 1993. Many cisgender women's health issues, such as endometriosis, are still frequently overlooked or diagnosed late.
The needs of cisgender female patients are also not always included in health technology. Electronic health records (EHRs) lack basic data elements related to cisgender women's health, such as a delivery date for a pregnant patient, according to the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS). EHR vendors and the federal government have not agreed on shared data elements for pregnancy, which leads to challenges in extracting data.
What Are the Limitations or Obstacles?
FemTech has an opportunity to address gaps in care or shortcomings in the healthcare industry. However, there are some limitations. Your patient may have a favorite women's health app to help them monitor their cycle, promote healthy habits, address menopause symptoms or manage other aspects of their health. But the industry needs to be sure it moves beyond wellness or monitoring apps and provides real solutions that improve healthcare overall.
For now, HIMSS points out many of the solutions are individual apps or tools that address a single health aspect. Hundreds of companies are innovating and offering up potential new technologies, but care is still individualized. Comprehensive solutions that focus on all reproductive stages are lacking.
This approach has also received criticism for its lack of inclusion. A focus on ovulation, menstruation and other functions — and defining "women" using reproductive anatomy — excludes transgender women. Meanwhile, the heavy feminine branding often alienates transgender men and nonbinary people who may benefit from features such as menstrual tracking, exacerbating the inequalities in healthcare for these patient populations.
For now, most products are direct-to-consumer, with some devices or diagnostics that could be incorporated into practice in the future. Despite the shortcomings of this growing industry, there is a great deal of potential and promising technology available that your patients may benefit from.