Technology Created by Women, for Women Is Changing the Health Game
Male dominance in the health field has led to historically biased treatment, but as more women enter the medical field, they bring an inherent understanding of the female experience, psychology and physiology that men simply don't have.
As of 2019, women made up 47 percent of the workforce, a substantial increase from 30 percent in 1950.
Ultimately, this means treatment options for women are likely more accurate and available than ever before in history, and they represent a rapidly growing field known as female technology, or femtech for short.
How women are changing medical technology
"Women's health has been rather stagnant, but seeing the amazing growth in femtech in the last few years is not only elevating women but will elevate the society and the economy," said Betsy Greenleaf, D.O., a Howell, New Jersey-based urogynecologist, owner of the Pelvic Health Institute at Greenleaf Health and Wellness and CEO of the Pelvic Floor Store.
"Femtech has exploded in recent years despite the fact that women-based companies traditionally have issues getting funding," Greenleaf added.
Many of the multifaceted innovations in femtech are rather new developments, because female-specific technologies themselves—more importantly, technologies developed for women by women—are a recent development in the long history of medical science.
"Previously, most femtech solutions were geared towards innovating upon the fertility experience, menstrual tracking apps or pregnancy support," said Switzerland-based Oriana Kraft, producer and host of the FemTechnology Summit, scheduled for June 2022. The summit will combine research insights, clinical implementations and startup perspectives to provide information on innovations in the field of women's health.
Femtech, depending on who is defining the term, can include everything from autoimmune solutions to communities for women living with gynecological conditions.
"[These] are incredibly important areas and experiences to innovate upon, however, they only account for a sliver of the lived experiences of women everywhere," Kraft said.
As culture progresses, vernacular progresses, too. The term "woman," for example, does not strictly define a person's biological sex. We now widely understand the difference between sex and gender, and our understanding of what a woman is differs greatly from the understanding of previous generations.
This knowledge also drives the femtech industry as innovators work to create technology that benefits women of all different backgrounds. There has been more recognition that women's health is about more than just the capacity to reproduce, Kraft explained.
"Femtech has expanded to include other areas of health in which women are disproportionately affected," Kraft said. "Femtech, depending on who is defining the term, can include everything from autoimmune solutions to communities for women living with gynecological conditions."
Kraft also mentioned that many femtech businesses have successfully shifted from business-to-consumer models to business-to-business-to-consumer models, which is especially beneficial in the American health market. Essentially, this means options are more widely available to women because they don't have to individually seek specific technology—it's particularly helpful if you aren't aware of the technology in the first place.
Trends in the femtech industry
As the industry expands, new trends are emerging that move beyond technology targeted at fertility treatment. Among these trends, Kraft identified some of the biggest at the moment, including a "longitudinal approach" to create solutions encompassing the span of a woman's life from puberty to menopause, personalizing contraceptives, and technology to aid menopausal women.
"Twenty to 30 percent of women report being dissatisfied with their contraception, and concerns about side effects are the number one reason why women stop using the pill," Kraft said. "The contraceptive experience has largely not been innovated upon since the sexual revolution."
Additionally, Kraft noted that there have been calls to include the menstrual cycle as the sixth vital sign for the body, along with respiration, pulse, skin, pupils and blood pressure.
"Women's general health and their reproductive health is intertwined; both impact the other and can give crucial insights and serve as warning signs for underlying conditions," Kraft explained.
Current essentials in femtech
Kraft identified a few exciting and essential advancements in femtech, specifically at-home vaginal microbiome tests.
"[They] are groundbreaking in terms of the world of insights they open up directly to women who have been searching for answers for so long, pertaining to why they have recurrent UTIs [urinary tract infections] or other underlying conditions," Kraft said. "Both Evvy and JunoBio are two exciting start-ups in this space."
Additionally, she showed excitement about the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's clearance of the digital contraceptive Clue, which opens the door for further nonhormonal birth control options and digital therapeutics. She also pointed to Daye CBD tampons and Ovira, a wearable pulse therapy device, as essential alternatives to traditional pain relief methods.
Greenleaf also shared a few of her favorite technologies in the femtech space:
- Natural Cycles. The first FDA-approved app to track menstrual cycles and fertility.
- Mona Lisa Touch Laser. The first hormone-free treatment for vaginal atrophy, this treatment claims to rejuvenate the mucosa of the vagina to stop painful sex or discomfort from dryness.
- Elvie Breast Pump. The first hands-free breast pump for busy women. ("I wish this had been available when I had kids," Greenleaf said.)
- My Friend Violet. This company makes a cooling powder to help avoid sweat and discomfort while promoting vaginal wellness, and also provides an online community.
- The Pelvic Floor Store. This is a centralized marketplace for reliable pelvic health products and education (Greenleaf serves as CEO).
The femtech industry has accomplished a lot in a staggeringly short amount of time. You could argue the industry began in 1960 with FDA approval of oral contraceptives, but for years, the pill remained the only innovative development in medical technology geared toward women. Even today, only 4 percent of healthcare research and development is dedicated to women's health.
Analysts estimate the femtech industry will reach a market evaluation of $3 billion by 2030. Females born in 2016, the year the word femtech was coined by entrepreneur Ida Tin, will be entering puberty by 2030, and with how rapidly technology is developing, they will be far better equipped to handle their growing pains than any generation before them.