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What role will femtech play in women’s healthcare?

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted inequities in women's health, but what is the next step? Three tech and workplace culture pros discuss the future of the industry.

PACT's femtech panel. (Photo by Sarah Huffman)
As Women’s History Month opens, consider how technology can impact women’s healthcare.

The emerging field of femtech focuses on the products and services that use technology to support women’s health, according to Victoria Parris, manager of sales and service consulting in the life sciences sector at EY. This includes menstruation, sexual health, fertility, prenatal health, maternal health and menopause.

The global femtech market was worth $51 billion in 2021 and is expected to be worth $103 billion by 2030, per Precedence Research. Yet women’s healthcare continues to see disparities, Parris said while introducing the femtech panel at the PACT Foundation Breakfast last week.

“Whether it is equitable representation in clinical trials or social determinants of health, like wage gaps and affordable access to quality care and medicines, these disparities exist,” she said.

Philly-area femtech companies are working to reduce those disparities, including pregnancy care startup Cayaba Care, health-tracking app Journal My Health, and Fria Jewelry, a company that makes bracelets to mitigate hot flashes. Founders of these companies and more presented following the panel.

Only 4% of overall funding for research and development of healthcare services and products is focused on women’s health, Parris said. So, what’s the future of femtech — and how else can tech and workplaces support women’s health? Here’s what some experts said while speaking on the panel.

Women’s health in the pandemic

Through serving on the advisory board for the Wayne-based Women’s Resource Center, Kate Hermans, who is also a director at a California-based, clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company, said the local nonprofit saw an increase in women calling for help with bills throughout the pandemic — including healthcare bills.

The pandemic revealed certain inequities in women’s healthcare, she said, such as the fact that women are underrepresented in clinical trials. She saw more companies throughout the pandemic try to balance the demographics of their trials.

Telehealth has increased in popularity in the past three years. Jennifer Arches, senior director of global benefits at Comcast, said the use of telehealth is a tool to address issues with healthcare access. Arches cited a recent consumer study that found that women use telehealth services more than men.

However, Hermans observed that those resources were mostly used by middle-class white women over the age of 55. Other women might not have had access to the technology needed for telehealth, or the flexibility in their schedule even to attend a telehealth appointment, she said, because they’re so busy caring for other family members or working multiple jobs.

How can workplaces support women’s healthcare?

Jung Kim, who works in growth strategy and operations at Center City mental health tech startup NeuroFlow, said she thinks it’s important to focus on healthcare choices for older women. On average, women are having kids later in life, and there will soon be a larger demographic of older adults than children.

Comcast’s Arches said companies should implement benefits that support employees’ needs; for instance, the telecommunications giant is further developing its fertility benefits and transgender/gender diversity benefits. Another area where there needs to be more focus, she said, is accommodations for caregiving, both of children and older family members.

“If you’re an employee, if you’re a people leader, if you’re starting an organization, be loud for what your needs are so that your company can then adapt and change and propel those changes forward,” she said.

Arches said it’s also important to be an advocate for the needs of those who are different from you so there is a larger group of people advocating for change. Kim added that to advocate for change, you should think about “speaking into the right microphone at the right volume.”

“Be really cognizant of who or what could help you amplify that advocacy impact that you have,” Kim said.

Supporting femtech in the future

Hermans said the healthcare system right now is “broken,” and more investment in femtech companies is needed to provide alternate solutions to problems that exist in the current system.

An audience member who identified themselves as a nurse raised the point that a majority of healthcare workers are women, and that healthcare workers themselves have the knowledge and experience to create innovations for women’s health. (Take the nurse-cofounded Vasowatch, which is developing a wearable monitor to provide risk assessment of a postpartum hemorrhage in people who are giving birth, as an example.)

Hermans added that pharmaceutical companies will often look to opinion leaders or physicians for expertise when nurses are the workers with patients day in and day out.

“Innovation going forward is making sure that through that product development process, we’re tapping into where innovation lives right there at the source,” she said.

Sarah Huffman is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.
Companies: NeuroFlow / Comcast / PACT

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