Femtech: aligning technological investment with women’s unmet health needs
By Integrated Care Journal-
On 27th April 2021, Public Policy Projects (PPP) hosted a virtual breakfast with Dr Stephanie Kuku, Senior Consultant in Health Technology and AI at Hardin Health, and Shakti Dookeran, Innovation Lead at Imperial College Health Partners. This webinar explored the potential Femtech holds in meeting women’s health needs, while simultaneously creating investment opportunities in market gaps.
What are the unmet needs?
Both speakers highlighted several needs that are not currently being adequately met surrounding contraception, infertility, cervical and breast cancer, polycystic ovary syndrome, endometriosis, and menopause. Unmet needs are also found when accounting for existing inequalities; for example, in Britain, black women are five times more likely to die in childbirth.
In addition, while the Covid-19 pandemic has catalysed the use of technology, it has also exacerbated pressure on women as caregivers, limited access to cervical and breast cancer screenings, and reinforced existing inequalities.
What can femtech offer?
Shaki states “the healthcare system has been mostly designed by and for men”. Female health data is inaccurate, as women are underrepresented in clinical trials and despite living longer than men on average, women spend a greater proportion of their lives in ill-health and disability. Femtech works to counteract this reality and help address unmet needs by, for example, improving the efficiency of screening and reducing the presentation to diagnosis time, two issues related to the primary and secondary care gap in the UK. Femtech can also provide care closer to home, streamline treatment pathways and build women’s confidence about managing their own conditions.
The term Femtech was coined by Ida Tin, who created Clue in 2016, a period tracking app that now hosts over 10 million users. Alongside Clue, there are many remarkable start-ups such as Hertility Health, a service that uses machine learning to help women understand their fertility at home and connect to specialists by using both NHS and private options to create a more streamlined and affordable option.
Can technological investment align with women’s unmet health needs?
In 2018 Public Health England published a report: Women's Health is a Public Health Issue, What Does the Data Tell Us? Data from a survey of 2000 women, in addition to data mining and stakeholder mapping demonstrated that women’s health needs were not being met surrounding contraception, preconception, care, infertility, and cervical cancer diagnosis. Building on this, the government has announced a call for evidence for a new women’s health strategy led by Nadine Dorries. Open until 30 May, this call for evidence is the first stage of building a general consensus on the unmet health needs of women post-Covid.
Considering the important question Stephanie raised, “how do we align the health care needs of women with funding and research and a return on investment? ”, we must ensure the report from this call is followed by effective change. While private investment will drive start-ups to create solutions for women, public markets have their own incentives. Therefore, we must ensure that public-private partnerships are aligned with women’s needs, particularly unmet needs.
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