It’s 3:30 a.m. A new mom had a baby two days ago. With ear-piercing shrieks, her baby’s telling her he wants to eat — now.
But he won’t latch. It was easy at the hospital, with a helpful nurse hovering close by, but now all he does is squirm while mom sweats and panics. Her lactation consultant appointment isn’t for another four days.
Then she remembers an app her sister mentioned. It offers virtual breastfeeding advice via 24/7 chat.
She logs on, explains the conundrum, and the consultant lists out possible strategies. The first two don’t work, but by the third, she’s nursing like a pro.
This is just one example of how “FemTech” is reimagining — and democratizing — the delivery of healthcare to women.
Enhancing women’s access to healthcare through tech
FemTech generally refers to tech-enabled products and services that focus on supporting women’s health. That said, the term doesn’t capture the full breadth of opportunities created by tech that’s focused on meeting women’s needs, says Alice Zheng.
“It’s catchy,” said Zheng, a principal at RH Capital, a fund that invests in early and growth-stage women’s health companies. She’s also a physician and a women’s health expert. “But at our fund, we just say we’re a women’s tech fund.”
Such technology can broadly include a variety of solutions that address women’s health — from period tracking apps to telehealth startups for people with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).
Whatever its definition, FemTech is booming. In 2021, funding for FemTech hit a staggering $2.5B, according to McKinsey.
“Women’s health has long been underserved,” Zheng says. “If you even think about the history of modern medicine, [when] you look at any anatomy textbook, the photos or the images are generally of male bodies, except for reproductive organs.”
Diseases that only affect women still aren’t well studied, she says. And minority and LGBTQ+ women especially face discrimination in the healthcare system. As well, women from cultural backgrounds where they don’t discuss reproductive health may struggle to trust healthcare systems and providers.
FemTech — and the innovations that have sprung from it — could democratize access to healthcare for a historically underserved demographic, no matter their physical location.
“I see the rise of FemTech as … a new wave of empowering women in their own healthcare,” Zheng says.
3 key types of women’s digital health solutions
While innovation is springing up in a myriad of areas, FemTech solutions tend to be grouped into one of three main categories, says Zheng:
1. Patient education or tracking apps
These solutions provide women with tailored education about their own bodies or health conditions. The goal is to fill in knowledge gaps and give women a sense of control over their personal health.
For instance, with period tracking apps — there are already several in the market — people who get periods can input data about their cycle to track fertile windows, prevent pregnancy, track their moods, or simply know when their next period is coming.
2. Virtual care platforms
Virtual care, including telemedicine, took off during COVID, Zheng says. Often, specialized care is limited or even unavailable in rural areas, so telemedicine helps all women get help for specific conditions no matter where they live. It can also be useful for women who don’t have the time for or difficulty getting transportation to specialty healthcare centres.
Menopause is one such condition. Despite it being something most women will experience in their lives, it’s highly stigmatized and there’s often little to no specialized treatment available. But there are now companies that offer virtual care, so women can access physicians who specialize in menopause.
3. Connected devices
Connected devices combine a physical piece of health equipment with a digital monitoring system. A woman can then receive care at home, while her personalized patient data is then sent to her healthcare provider, via a digital solution.
An example would be a nonstress test for pregnant people (a standard diagnostic test). In a more traditional healthcare model, you’d have to take time off work, travel to the clinic, and undergo the test for several hours, Zheng says.
Using a connected device, the patient can do the test at home and the device transmits the data to their physician for interpretation.
How can FemTech increase healthcare accessibility for even more women?
While apps, digital platforms and connected devices can be revolutionary for women’s healthcare, there will still be times when a patient needs to connect with a real person, Zheng says — which helps build trust in the tech solution they’re using.
“The digital solutions that we end up investing in often tend to have some kind of person involved at some point. It could be like a group therapist or a care coordinator,” she explains, adding that providers should also ideally come from a range of racial and cultural backgrounds.
The first wave of FemTech didn’t necessarily cater to women of all socioeconomic or cultural backgrounds — but Zheng says she hopes the next phase of innovation will evolve to offer much needed healthcare support to even more women.
“It’s really important that these solutions are able to address problems for disadvantaged communities,” she concludes.
Vog builds custom apps to meet the needs of a variety of demographics, including solutions for women’s health. Connect with us to learn more today.