Despite females accounting for half of the world’s population, they face systemic inequality within healthcare provision.
Our article ‘Women’s Health Isn’t Being Taken Seriously’ highlighted how women’s health issues are often misdiagnosed or diagnosed late. This has led women to take their health matters into their own hands. In fact, women are 75% more likely than men to use digital tools for healthcare.
This has resulted in the rise of femtech companies who have seized the opportunity to address the inequality women face in healthcare.
What Is Femtech?
Femtech is a term that describes a new category of healthcare aimed specifically at women, including software, diagnostics, products and services that all use technology to provide women with solutions to manage their overall health including menstrual cycles, reproductive health, pregnancy and postnatal care.
Femtech is becoming a fast-growing sector in health tech and is expected to expand exponentially to reach $9 billion in funding by 2024. However, femtech is still a significantly underdeveloped area of health tech.
Although it’s estimated that women spend around $500 billion annually on medical care, just 4% of the amount invested in healthcare research and development is specifically aimed at women’s health.
Growing Areas Of Femtech
Although femtech started off in the traditional space of fertility and reproductive health, it is now branching out into what it’s calling ‘personalised and female-orientated approaches to general health and disease management’ including:
- Postpartum care
The femtech sector is also expanding due to the growth in personalised medicine as a whole.
Supporting Women’s Health
Many women are now wanting a better understanding of their periods, and different solutions to the products currently available. Not only to help with fertility but to also understand and better manage symptoms of premenstrual tension which can debilitating for some women.
The rise in femtech has spawned a variety of digital apps that help women have a deeper understanding of their menstrual cycle. From monitoring symptoms to tracking cycles and ovulation.
By enabling women gain a better understanding of what’s normal for them and their menstrual cycle, they will be able to spot changes early on.
This is also important for when a woman reaches her early 40s and can begin to show signs of perimenopause, one of which is the start of irregular periods.
By tracking menstrual cycles over time, women will be more in tune with their body and will spot signs like this early on.
However, with the majority of these apps using an average 28-day cycle and not taking into account women’s own unique menstrual cycle, they have been criticised for being inaccurate.
Fertility trackers have been around for a while, but more products are entering the market to address areas of women’s postnatal health that isn’t often discussed. One area is bladder control and postnatal recovery.
Femtech’s advances in this area are especially important in the UK, where 80% of women stop breastfeeding before they want to. As a result, the UK has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world, which has consequences for both mum and baby.
Having to stop breastfeeding suddenly, or before a woman is ready may lead to undesired symptoms as a result of hormonal changes. During this period, prolactin and oxytocin levels fall, and progesterone and oestrogen levels change. This may lead to pain, discomfort, fatigue, anxiety, and mood changes.
So it's important that women are supported in this area of their health to ensure they remain fit and well in order to care for their child.
Endometriosis affects women of all ages and is caused by tissue similar to the lining of the womb growing in other areas of the body such as the ovaries and fallopian tubes. This lining still behaves in the same way as the lining of the womb meaning the cells build up, breakdown and bleed each month. But unlike the lining of the womb, the blood has nowhere to go causing women debilitating pain.
Some of the symptoms of endometriosis include:
- Pelvic pain which is worse during a woman's period, this can often be chronic
- Severe period pain that stops a woman carrying out every day activities
- Painful sex
- Pain pooing and peening when a woman has her period
- Difficulty conceiving
- Heavy periods
Endometriosis affects 1 in 10 women in the UK, yet despite how many women this affects, it takes on average 7.5 years to receive a diagnosis.
Some start-ups are stepping up to help diagnose this condition faster, as well as digital solutions to help women monitor and manage their symptoms.
You can find out more about the condition at Endometriosis UK.
Unfortunately, while menopause is a completely natural part of life, this is an area of women’s health that is often overlooked and under acknowledged. Yet menopause must be a more visible and considered aspect of women’s health.
- By 2025, over 1 billion women will be postmenopausal across the world.
- 1 in 4 women struggle to cope with life as a result of menopause symptoms.
- 67% of women felt there was little help and support for menopause.
- 63% of women said their working life had been negatively affected in some way by their symptoms.
While some transition through menopause with ease, for others the symptoms are debilitating. According to Nuffield Health, 38% of women will visit their GP to seek help with menopause symptoms. Unfortunately, not all women get the support they need from their GP when it comes to menopause health. The same study by Nuffield Health identified that 25% of women who did visit their GP said the possibility of the symptoms being due to the menopause was never discussed.
In the UK, it took until 2015 before NICE published the first guidelines for menopause diagnosis and treatment. A survey found 8 in 10 G’s felt the new NICE guidelines would improve their confidence discussing menopause management with women.
Despite these exciting developments, menopause remains an overlooked and underfunded aspect of femtech. According to Pitchbook, startups focusing on menopause raised just over $250 million in funding since 2009. This is comparatively small compared to femtech more generally, which received about $500 million in funding in 2019.
The rise of Femtech has been as a direct result of women’s health not being taken seriously. It is allowing women to take more control over their own health needs whether it’s to aid fertility or to improve period health or get support for menopause health.
We now need to see more being done in the public sector to support women’s health issues and particularly in funding for research and development.
At Forth, we are in a very fortunate position to be able to take action on women’s health.
Sarah Bolt, Forth’s Founder, is passionate about developing solutions for women. That’s why we are working on a unique solution for women to help them get a deeper understand of their hormone health and develop a unique and personal picture of their menstrual cycle.
With this level of insight working alongside symptoms a woman maybe experiencing, coupled with our expertise in endocrinology will empower women to take more control of their health.
As mentioned above, we are also aiding women’s knowledge of their health through the creation of educational material such as our guides and articles around the menopause and our article on the impact of women’s hormones on overall health.
It’s exciting to see these positive developments, and we hope the emergence of Femtech will help address some of the inequalities women face in healthcare.