The past decade has been a decade for women in health, from marches demanding equal rights to renewed focus on including women in medical research. And rightfully so: women are 50% of the world population and spend 80% of household health care expenditures. Women are 75% more likely to use digital tools for health care than men and 66% of female internet users look online for health care information.
While women have been traditionally overlooked in the technology arena as consumers with unique needs, things are changing fast. Over the past five years, health and wellness technology along with design and development of new products specifically geared towards the unique needs of women have exploded. Entrepreneurs are getting serious, and creative, about how to tackle the needs of women today by developing and deploying technology to help women in their health journey that hasn’t changed much since our grandmothers.
What’s even more exciting is that these technological developments are hyper-focused on bringing solutions directly into the hands of women to improve access, equity, and empowerment to make choices that make sense for each of our unique needs.
With all this rapid change, Ida Tin, co-founder and CEO of Clue, coined a special term for all the technology addressing women’s biological needs, “Femtech” which refers to female technology. As Suzannah Weiss so brilliantly shared in Bustle, “by creating technology to improve women’s health, FemTech is getting us to talk about these topics and treat them like they matter — because they do.”
It’s no surprise that the growing recognition that these topics matter alongside clear uptake of Femtech tools is leading to a bit of a buzz in the investment community, where investors, funds, and incubators are taking note in a big way. 2018 was crowned Femtech’s disruptive year, securing more than $650 million in venture capital funding for software, diagnostics, products and services that leverage technology to improve women’s health. It was an impressive breakthrough that continues to boom. By the end of 2019, an estimated $1 billion in investment is expected, and a projected market size of $50 billion by 2025.
The range of technologies in the FemTech space are diverse and focus on women across their lifespan. Various solutions and approaches are improving day to day management of menstruation, contraception, fertility, pregnancy, post-birth care, menopause, mature health, and everything in between. As solutions are just coming to market following long research and development cycles, there are more than 200 active startups and innovative companies offering tools that can be used at home and at work, allowing women to be more empowered to determine their care.
For pregnant women, wearable contraction monitors and new tests are helping prevent preterm birth. A new generation of hands free, silent breast pumps are enabling new moms to pump in the boardroom. Alternative birth control methods are hitting the market with FDA approval, and getting birth control has never been easier with at home ordering of a diverse kinds of contraception from pills, rings, patches, ad more. A wide range of companies focus on improving fertility outcomes and some fertility aids are helping women conceive at home before traditional assisted reproductive technology routes (IUI, IVF). Innovative period products are hitting the market like rapid fire from menstrual pain management tools to feminine care alternatives.
Long ignored leaky and overactive bladder, a normal part occurrence that impacts 1 in 3 women in their lifetime is also getting the spotlight through tools that help strengthen the pelvic floor. In the sexual health space, taboo topics like pain during sex are being adressed head on with products that alleviate pain and information resource centers. For older women, there are so many tools available to help women manage their symptoms to address vaginal dryness and relief for hot flashes to name just two.
And because women are more than their reproductive organs, there is a growing recognition of the need for technology to address chronic disease management for the symptoms and care needed uniquely by women. From heart disease to dementia, we can expect wearables, apps, and other products to start launching with female-focused tech.
The Challenges Ahead
These tools are helping women succeed in all areas of their life. From taking back their intimate lives with their partners through alleviating pain during sex, to allowing women to address stress urinary incontinence to help them get back to the gym.
But too many women don’t know they exist. Doctors, who are often the frontline of information say they want to recommend more technology but don’t have the capacity or time to investigate and recommend solutions. And finding all the relevant tools and services online, while also addressing quality, can be a daunting task.
The cost of development of these solutions is high on the manufacturer side and the associated price tags can also break the bank, pricing most women out. Less than 1% of women are willing to change a spending habit to nurture their health and wellness, and while there are certainly early adopters of these solutions, as long as they remain uncovered by insurance, we can expect their uptake to level out at some point.
Yet these tools and services can have lasting impact on women’s lives, improving happiness, satisfaction, and productivity.
While the market is booming and women are starting to see the solutions, we still have a long way to go to overcome barriers in knowledge and access of these tools for every woman, from hourly employees to senior executives. A big challenge for manufacturers will be to find a way to enable more scaled uptake by ensuring women know about their solutions and are willing to spend money on them, especially if they are for a limited time- like solutions for ovulation tracking to become pregnant or breastfeeding.
Health plans and insurers have a big task ahead to understand how these tools might lead to overall cost savings, as some solutions may decrease the number of in-person visits to providers, and may also prevent the need for more costly, invasive treatments depending on the intervention and women’s specific case. They will have to move rapidly to be able to include these technologies in their plan, expand their underwriting, and allow a more flexible approach to the use of home facing health and wellness tools.
Despite these challenges, we’re excited to see where the next few years us, and how these technologies change the way women can take control of their health and wellness.
At Hela Health, we are working to overcome these barriers by aggregating women’s health solutions into a single Femtech shop, coupled with support, community, and resources to help women on their health and wellness journey. We have a big task ahead to ensure every woman, everywhere can access these great tools no matter their income level.