Femtech – the way forward for women?
At the beginning of April, many European nations halted their vaccination programme in fears that the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine increased the recipient’s chances of developing severe and deadly blood clots. Blood clots are not something a normal, healthy, individual would worry about, but they are something women taking hormonal based contraception have been concerned about – and at risk of – for years.
Over 1.5 million women in the UK take hormonal based contraceptives, which can increase an individual’s chance of developing a fatal blood clot from anywhere between 0.3%-1%1. For reference, the chances of the vaccine causing a fatal blood clot is reported at 0.0004%2.
And it’s not just contraceptives, options for women in all aspects of their gender-based health are widely acknowledged to be limited. Part of the reason for this is that solutions for health problems associated with being female are consistently overlooked with respect to development, improvement and investment in new therapeutic options.
However, with digital healthtech becoming an ever-more promising alternative to traditional healthcare, could technology provide women with an effective alternative to their current health options?
There are multiple companies already making waves in the ‘femtech’ industry, including fertility-based apps which help women track their fertile windows. These include Natural Cycles CE-marked, FDA approved, hormone free contraceptive app, which has a reported efficacy of 98%, about the same as that of oral contraceptives3, and Ava women, a fertility-wearable that tracks multiple aspects of the wearer’s health including their heart rate, temperature, sleep cycle, and other outcomes4. Ava gives an overall picture of health and helps the user identify early health issues, but also tracks fertility.
There is also an array of apps for pregnant women, breastfeeding women, and women with pelvic floor dysfunction among many other health related topics. The breadth of digital solutions is impressive – Bonzun is a virtual midwife app, that notifies women of potential health problems they could experience during their pregnancy, and how to manage them5. LactApp supports breastfeeding mothers with an in-app chat function for questions and an automatic symptom checker with 76 thousand paths and 2,500 unique responses6. Pelvic floor trainer Elvie addresses the overlooked issue of pelvic floor dysfunction7.
Although these femtech products show a promising future for women’s healthcare, their cost can sometimes be problematic, and few are available on the NHS. The cheapest product listed above being Natural Cycles, with an annual fee of £49.99, with the most expensive falling into the hundreds.
Women’s health is already an issue of equity, and adding expensive fees to access these innovative products only exacerbates this. It would be great to see the endorsement of cost-effective products by NICE and the NHS in the future, to further empower women around their healthcare, and facilitate the access to these products to all women within the UK.
Finally, reproductive health, which many gender-focused digital health solutions aim to address, is only one facet of women’s health. Heart disease is the No.1 killer of women in the UK, and yet is mostly recognised as a male issue8. Similarly, 1 in 5 women have a mental health issue, in comparison to 1 in 8 men9. Recognising the scope of gender-based health issues is half the battle, and it is clear there is a lot more work to be done in the women’s health space. However, we are optimistic that femtech is already providing us with some answers.