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Tuesday, March 21, 2023

The Future of FemTech

Meet the people and companies empowering women to take control of their health

By Jordan Gerard and Shelby Tuttle

Women’s healthcare is at the forefront of the medical industry in 2023. From virtual breastfeeding consultants to fertility tracking apps and female-focused telehealth companies, old conversations and new sensations are making headlines.  

Coined by period tracking app Clue Co-Founder Ida Tin, “FemTech” is a concentration of technology that focuses specifically on women’s health issues. With an app or product developed or currently in development for nearly every stage of a woman’s life, FemTech is breaking barriers and making it easier for women to learn more about their health. Apps such as Clue and Flo make it easy for women to track their monthly cycles and feature pregnancy modes to accompany women along their pregnancy journeys, while other technologies work to evolve and address women’s health issues and concerns in various stages of menopause.

Investment management firm McKinsey & Company studied 763 companies focusing on FemTech. Their research shows that interest and development have been growing steadily in the past 10 years, and FemTech funding reached $2.5 billion by December 2021. The firm found that many companies are focusing on “maternal health patient support, consumer menstrual products, gynecological devices, and solutions in fertility.” However, as only 3% of all digital health funding goes to FemTech companies, there are still some gaps in women’s health that have the capacity to be more thoroughly addressed. According to the study, those areas of opportunity include oncology, contraception, and gynecological infections.

According to the firm, a significant majority (more than 70%) of FemTech companies have at least one female founder. Because many FemTech products and apps are largely designed by women, for women, they can help address gender inequality issues, focus on culturally sensitive care, tackle stereotyped topics, and provide convenience for users.

Cath Everett, Vice President of Product & Content at Flo Health, agrees that FemTech provides the “necessary technological innovation, platforms, and services that women need and deserve.”

Flo Health's Cath Everett
Flo Health’s VP of Product & Content, Cath Everett

She reported that Flo has over 50 million monthly active users and is the No. 1 OB-GYN recommended app for period and cycle tracking, based on a survey of American OB-GYNs.

The Flo app provides cycle and ovulation tracking, health chatbots, personalized health insights, and access to medically credible information, Everett said. The information is developed and reviewed by over 100 health experts and scientists. So far, 9 in 10 Flo users say the app helps them be prepared and aware of their body signals. One in two users say it helps them have more efficient conversations with their healthcare provider, Everett said.

 “The more you know about your body, the better you are able to care for it!” she said in an email.

To her point, several FemTech companies provide opportunities for early diagnosis of a number of potential health concerns. Company NextGen Jane is currently conducting studies and beta-testing a technological tampon that will eventually diagnose gynecological health conditions like infertility, adenomyosis, and endometriosis, all through the collection of menstrual blood. The company is also currently conducting a study of pregnant women to identify biological drivers for preeclampsia and preterm birth, in addition to examining fetal cells shed through the cervix to develop better tests to understand fetus health prior to delivery.

Companies like Blue Box and AOA Dx are focusing on the early diagnosis of breast and ovarian cancers, respectively, while others are working to reduce invasive diagnostic testing for women’s health disorders. Dotlab is developing a blood test to diagnose endometriosis that would eliminate the need for the current standard laparoscopic diagnostic procedure that can impose risks to patient health like infections and internal bleeding. Additionally, Paloma Health has developed an at-home thyroid blood test to assist the one-in-eight American women who will develop thyroid disease within her lifetime. The digital health platform also provides online physician consultations and personalized health plans to assist the patient through their health journey following diagnosis. All of these companies were founded or co-founded by women.

Historically, women were excluded from clinical trials in the U.S. until 1993, and women’s health is still underfunded today, according to a U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) study. It concluded that “NIH applies a disproportionate share of its resources to diseases that affect primarily men, at the expense of those that affect primarily women.” Everett added women’s pain is often dismissed, and they’re expected to “just deal with” pain, discomfort, or debilitating symptoms. 

NextGen Jane Co-Founder Ridhi Tariyal

A personal experience with dismissal during a doctor’s appointment is what led NextGen Jane co-founder Ridhi Tariyal to begin investigating opportunities for women to take preventative care into their own hands. Following a doctor’s appointment in 2013 where she went in for a fertility checkup but her doctor refused to order any tests, she recognized a need for a workaround to the information she desired about her own body. 

In a September 2022 interview on the Visible Women podcast, she noted that NextGen Jane is “for people who are tired of going through a medical diagnostic odyssey, do not want to have a surgery to find out they have a condition, and would just prefer to pay out of pocket to send in a tampon to find out what’s going on with their bodies.”

As the FemTech sector becomes larger, the conversations around women’s health will inevitably become louder. And as funding increases, on-lookers will surely take note of the power of these life-changing – and potentially life-saving innovations –  that inform how women care for their bodies and long-term health for generations to come. 

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