By Nicole Witowski
If you are a woman, studies have shown that you may receive less extensive treatment for a heart attack than a man. You may also get lifesaving treatment later during a heart attack.
If you go to the ER for pain, you’re less likely to receive any pain medication. If drugs are prescribed, you’ll wait longer to receive them.
If you’re a critically ill woman older than 50, you are less likely to be admitted to an ICU. And you’re at particular risk of not getting lifesaving interventions.
Women are the majority of living kidney donors, yet women are less likely to receive a kidney transplant.
What’s driving all these disparities in care?
It’s not clear what the exact cause is, but research points to systemic gender bias. Women’s health is understudied and underfunded. The result is that women may not receive the most optimal healthcare.
To help address gender inequality in healthcare, a growing number of technology companies are developing solutions specific to women’s health. These solutions make up a subsector of healthcare technology called femtech. It’s still a small segment of the market, but it’s growing.
In this article, we look at some of the women’s health challenges femtech is solving and the companies building innovative solutions in this sector.
What is femtech?
Femtech (short for female technology) is a subsector of healthcare technology that focuses on women’s health. Companies in this space develop and offer software, products, and services to address health issues that only affect women or affect them differently or disproportionately, such as pregnancy. These solutions could play an important role in transforming the traditional women’s health experience, especially during significant life stages such as puberty, reproduction, and menopause.
Femtech companies rode a wave of funding in recent years, with more investors recognizing the potential to address underserved areas of women’s health. From 2018 to 2022, funding to the sector nearly doubled, according to Pitchbook data. While investment is slowing due to broader macroeconomic concerns, deals are still happening. As of May 8, 2023, femtech companies pulled in $333.5 million in venture capital funding so far this year.
U.S. venture capital investment in femtech healthcare companies
Fig.1 Data is from Pitchbook. *Data includes U.S. deals as of May 8, 2023.
Let’s look at some of the women’s health challenges femtech is working to solve and the companies behind the solutions.
Maternal health continues to worsen in the U.S.
The U.S. has the highest maternal death rate of any developed country, and this is especially true for Black women. In 2021, the U.S. rate was 32.9 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, which is more than ten times the estimated rates of other high-income countries like Australia, Japan, and Spain. What’s more, maternal deaths in the U.S. are rising. Between 2002 and 2018, the number of pregnancy-related deaths in the U.S. doubled. According to the CDC, more than 80% of maternal deaths in the U.S. are preventable.
To take on this challenge, femtech companies are deploying technologies to manage pregnancy-related complications. Here’s a few making waves:
- Softsonics is developing a wearable sensor for maternal health that can detect sepsis, preeclampsia, and placental insufficiency.
- Raydiant Oximetry built a diagnostic platform to monitor maternal hemorrhage (one of the leading causes of maternal death) and fetal distress during pregnancy.
- Delfina offers a care management platform that uses machine learning to help predict potential pregnancy complications before and during childbirth.
75% of women who seek help for severe menopausal symptoms don’t receive it
About 1.1 billion women worldwide will be postmenopausal by 2025. Most women say menopausal symptoms — which last 7.4 years on average — interfere with their daily lives. A third of women will have symptoms such as hot flashes, insomnia, and cognitive difficulties for a decade or more. Yet, 75% of women who seek help for significant menopausal symptoms don’t receive it. The economic impact is huge: According to a Mayo Clinic study, menopause costs American women an estimated $1.8 billion in lost working time per year for menopause symptoms.
Companies are increasingly stepping in to address menopause by offering solutions for women navigating this natural phase and other related mid-life health concerns. For example, Elektra Health offers a digital health platform that provides menopause education and access to menopause specialists. In the U.S., only 20.8% of residents reported that their program had a formal menopause medicine learning curriculum, highlighting the difficulty women may face in accessing experts. Elektra Health also partners with two health plans (Mass General Brigham Health Plan and EmblemHealth) to offer its evidence-based solutions to those navigating menopause.
Women die more from heart attacks than men
Heart disease is the number one killer of both men and women. But women are significantly less likely to survive heart attacks. According to the American Heart Association, 26% of women will die within a year of a heart attack compared with just 19% of men. By five years after a heart attack, almost half of women die, compared with 36% of men. Gender bias leading to misdiagnoses, delays in referrals, and inadequate treatment are some factors associated with a poor prognosis of cardiovascular diseases in women.
Efforts are being made to bridge the gender gap in heart disease outcomes, improve access to appropriate care, and raise awareness about heart disease in women. For example, Bloomer Tech makes a smart bra that monitors a user’s vital signs like pulse rate, respiratory rate, heart rhythm, and more. Data collected from the device is sent to an app, which can also alert doctors if something goes wrong. Meanwhile, Swiss femtech startup CorDiFio is building an AI-powered digital health platform that focuses on early identification and prevention of heart disease in women.
It’s important to note that while femtech has great potential, there are still challenges to overcome, such as ensuring inclusivity, addressing data privacy concerns, and tackling the digital divide. However, by leveraging technology and focusing on women’s specific health needs, femtech can contribute significantly to closing the gender gap in healthcare.
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