Femtech refers to any type of technology that is centered on women’s healthcare needs. This includes wearable breast pumps, apps to increase pelvic floor strength, menstruation apps, ovulation apps, and fertility apps. The field is growing, but its growth is not universally accepted.
Is this growth actually benefiting women? Or is this rise just another capitalistic goal? Experts have thrown out numbers like 50 billion in terms of industry worth within the next 6 years alone.
Additionally, why has it taken so long for this field to emerge? To put it plainly, it’s because the technological world is predominately composed of men and men frequently don’t have a deep understanding of the healthcare needs of women.
It’s clear this field has potential, but it must be navigated in the proper way.
While femtech currently predominately revolves around fertility products, there are many avenues in which it could grow that could revolutionize female healthcare.
For instance, some chronic diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease are two times as prevalent in females than males. Other illnesses that disproportionately affect females are heart disease, some cancers, and Multiple sclerosis (MS).
Developments in these avenues are some of the most exciting. Considering the fact that women typically do not have adequate representation in clinical trials, the rise of femtech could help to equalize the focus on women in research. Yes, women still tend to live slightly longer lives. However, most fail to realize that females spend more of their life in poor health. Partly, this is due to healthcare professionals dismissing their symptoms and telling them they’re overreacting.
It is beyond time for females to be an area of increased focus in developments of novel healthcare innovations. However, femtech’s rise has not come without its own issues.
1– In femtech, there is currently a hyperfocus on menstruation. This, in accompaniment with the word “fem” alienates individuals who are non-binary, transgender, or intersex. While these individuals may experience the same healthcare needs as females, the term’s lack of inclusivity can turn them away from participation in the industry. This means that these people are receiving fewer of the novel innovations which could support their medical needs.
2- The issue of privacy. It is incredibly important to read the terms of service in order to ensure that your personal data will be protected and not exploited. One terrible example of exploited data is the fertility app called Ovia who has pitched a version of their app to employers and insurers which will tell them how many of their employees are trying to conceive. Ovia did not make any comment on the matter. Not only may data be exploited by the company itself, it could be subject to hacks or breaches. That said, there are plenty of companies with solid privacy policies. It’s all about due diligence to read and uncover them.
Some of the positives of shared data (with consent of course) is that it can contribute to valuable, global research projects. For instance, Clue is working to evaluate the relationship between STIs and premenstrual symptoms.
3- The dramatic increase of apps/devices in recent years can actually be a downfall. It can be incredibly overwhelming for any individual to navigate. Imagine searching “ovulation app” in the app store. You receive dozens of results. Which is the best app? Which is the most scientifically backed, ensures your privacy, and is the easiest to use?
Even if you spend hours researching, it’s likely that many apps will be too generalized for an individuals needs. As every individual is unique, certain features will be more or less relevant for different people. Hopefully, more individualized options will be available in the future.
4- It’s not surprising that this new technology has a high price tag. For instance, the wearable breast pump created by Elvie costs £249. The pelvic floor strengthener created by the same company costs £169. These price tags can cause unnecessary stress for families.
Despite the challenges, there are some clear-cut solutions. For instance, if companies diversify their leadership and actually begin to include women in their executive positions, many of these issues would likely be solved. Currently, there are many healthcare companies focused on female health who don’t have a single woman on their leadership team. If you don’t have advisers who look like your customers, there is no way to ensure you are properly addressing the needs of the population you aim to serve.
Another improvement that could be made is an increase in the development of products that aren’t centered on menstruation. As aforementioned, there are many chronic diseases which disproportionately affect women like MS which could also benefit from the rise of this industry.
Additionally, advocates hope that companies will begin to make their products more accessible by placing them in department stores or online sites like Amazon where females already shop. Ideally, health insurance companies will also begin to cover more of the cost of these products.
Finally, hopefully more companies will make improvements to their privacy policies. In the meantime, it is important for users to do their research and ensure they are choosing an app they feel comfortable with.
Overall, despite the challenges and continued growth that is needed, the rise of this industry has many potential benefits for female and transgender healthcare. Hopefully, it won’t be long until we see some of these challenges become resolved.
“In an age where women from all corners of the globe are having their rights stripped, anything that puts females front and centre should be welcomed.”
You can read more about the rise of femtech here.