August 15, 2018

FemTech - Empowering Women's Health and Wellness

Commentary
Hanna Phelan

Gender parity is a topic that will make some of you wince - but bear with us. Despite women holding a core role in healthcare as consumers, caregivers and health professionals there has been an obvious disparity to date when it comes to representation in healthcare leadership positions. Digital Health startups, and the industry more broadly, have been shaking-up the lackluster trend of female underrepresentation in healthcare and technology sectors with a reported 25% of digital health CEOs being female (hopefully we’ll get to a point where we can disregard these types of metrics). This movement of mounting female representation in digital health Executives is reflected in the rising tide of FemTech - unsurprisingly increased female representation in the sector leads to increased understanding of women's health needs and a de-stigmatization of areas previously left in the shadows. Enter FemTech.

So, what exactly is FemTech? FemTech is a rapidly growing area of digital health targeted at women’s health and wellness - from rapid diagnostics and to remote monitoring, and beyond. It is also a market that through it’s broad spectrum of offerings, including reproductive and maternal tech interventions, is predicted to hold a value of $50 Billion by 2025. Sound growth of this sector and increased dialogue and investment in women's health does not promise to only improve the QoL of women, but as a substantial body of literature has highlighted societies that prioritize women’s health will likely have better population health overall and promise to deliver substantial economic return.

The time has come where women’s health is no longer seen as a niche sector or secondary consideration - with 50% of the global population as target customers this seems like a wise shift. Read on from an insight into some of the most promising Reproductive and Maternal focused consumer facing FemTech solutions offering to empower women from conception to pregnancy.

Fertility and Contraceptive Support Applications

Direct to consumer health and wellness solutions, and FemTech specifically, have benefitted from a favorable regulatory landscape in the past few years. This has set a great precedent for fertility and contraception solutions created for female consumers looking to achieve heightened ability to self-manage a core aspect of their health.

Natural Cycles, a solution which allows women to take their temperature with a connected thermometer which then feeds the reading through an algorithm to deduce what point of their cycle the user is at, was the first of it’s kind to achieve CE approval as a Class-Two medical device. Clinical studies have shown that Natural Cycles is 93% effective for contraception with a typical Pearl Index of 7.0. - meaning that during one year, 7 women out of 100 get pregnant due to a variety of reasons, including having intercourse without protection on days flagged by the app as high fertility days. What is particularly interesting about Natural Cycles is their integration of sexual and reproductive health education, helping to educate and sustain women's self-management and empowerment beyond the app.

Ava Health iPhone App
Ava Health iPhone App

Like Natural Cycles, Ava Health have integrated a hardware element, however Ava have opted for a wrist based wearable for a more passive temperature insight. The FDA approved Ava as a Class-One medical device in 2016 in another big win for FemTech regulation and validation.

Leading solutions in the contraceptive and fertility monitoring space recognise the value of long term interventions that will expand the knowledge of women around their reproductive health and give them actionable insights seen in the educational features and advanced analytics of Clue, Natural Cycles and Ava. Another valuable point of consideration is integrating more tracking of general health and wellness biometrics and measures in order to gain a holistic insight and connecting to further services such as telemedicine consultations and mental health and meditation tools.

It’s not only startup digital health companies that have ventured into the promising and much needed fertility and contraceptive space. In March 2018 FitBit launched their own period and ovulation tracking platform that is intended for launch later this year. FitBit will allow consumers of this service to join a community of women where they can discuss and learn more about periods, birth control,conception, pregnancy, and perimenopause and menopause.

Beyond fertility tracking applications and sensors there is a new wave of telemedicine and pharmacy services offering a streamlined way for women to access their contraceptive pill prescriptions such as Nurx who are targeted specifically at providing affordable and accessible contraceptives. Users of Nurx simply choose their brand of choice, answer a questionnaire which is then reviewed by a clinician and finally the pill will be delivered straight to the consumer.

Pregnancy Support Solutions

Pregnant woman have always been strategic targets for brands - so it’s a little surprising that it has taken so long for solutions that support and guide women throughout their 9 months to make their way to consumers. Thankfully the direct to consumer market is now awash with solutions looking to do just that for expecting mothers and supporting traditional OB/GYN services and data driven understanding of physiological reactions during pregnancy.

This is clearly a delicate point in the care pathway for a digital health intervention which alludes to maintain high expectations when it comes to clinical validation. Bloomlife offers a lightweight adhesive monitor and mobile app monitors real-time uterine activity for contraction frequency, duration, patterns and trends of contractions to take the guesswork out of when to seek medical attention from a healthcare provider - particularly useful in the third trimester. In late 2017 Bloomlife received grants totaling $2.3 million in order to carry out a longitudinal study validating their offering. Fertility tracking application Ava also just launched a clinical trial of their wearable in detecting the onset of infection during a wearer’s pregnancy.

Bloomlife monitor and mobile app
Bloomlife monitor and mobile app

Lucina Health is another solution that aims to support safe pregnancies through their data driven system for the early warning of preterm birth. Using advanced analytics the Lucina platform analyses risk factors and metrics collected during antenatal check ups by obstetricians and foreshadows challenges that may lie around the corner. This clinician facing platform connects to a consumer facing app which facilitates communication between HCP and patient.

So, what's next for FemTech?

We have entered into an era where crucially important attention and investment is being allocated to women’s health - and as an industry, digital health is making great strides enabling consumers to take charge of their own health and wellness. this is a great stride particularly considering that in some parts of the US and Europe 30 years ago breast cancer would have been seen as a taboo topic - the growth of FemTech is slowing changing this whole dynamic.

FemTech is undoubtedly set to excel from this nascent stage to great heights of maturity and potential. In order to get there as an industry we need to keep some key points in mind such as communicating these opportunities to women, validating and specializing solution offerings and integrating pregnancy focused solutions with HCPs to provide a truly supportive and insightful loop. For FemTech the sky's the limit for increasing, access, understanding and reducing unnecessary costs. Like our hope for 'digital health' to simply become 'health' as it scales and matures, we hope that the continued realisation of the value of investing in women's health will not require it's own name in the near future - for now it is highlighting an essential attention point in healthcare globally.