Women's Healthcare Comes Out Of The Shadows: Femtech Shows The Way To Billion-Dollar Opportunities
Women's health accounts for only 4% of the overall funding for research and development for healthcare products and services. The majority of spending on other diseases has a male-specific research focus and this is separate from the research spending on male-specific conditions such as prostate cancer, which accounts for 2% of overall funding. Yet women today make up 49.6% of the total population and the economic burden for women's diseases is currently more than $500 billion. Additionally, with healthcare increasingly becoming personalized and patient-centric, now is the time to address the fundamental question of whether care delivery and management should be gender neutral.<
For several decades, healthcare products and solutions were designed, developed, and delivered without much attention to the fact that healthcare needs are different for men and women, considering their physiological differences. Often healthcare companies have a women's health portfolio, but have not considered the broader concerns surrounding accessibility, affordability, and sociocultural paradigms which can also play a critical role in personalizing care for users. There is currently a wave of change with healthcare companies increasingly recognizing the need to better serve women, whether for medical needs that are specific to them, or bringing in gender specificity for devices and solutions which are common to both women and men.
Gender-Specific Healthcare Solutions is Need of the Hour
Women's healthcare has so far been very centered around maternal and child care, family planning, and fertility. It is interesting to see that the prevalence of certain diseases is far greater in women than men. For example, the data in the following table shows that autoimmune disorders impact women far more than men.
There is a dire need to have differentiated care delivery for women, and this can be better addressed with solutions which are built around the frameworks specific to their physiology. For instance, Zimmer Holdings Inc. has a gender-specific solution for its high-flex knee, designed on the understanding that there are anatomical differences in women's and men's knees that need to be catered to while making prosthetics.
Similarly, there are fundamental differences in the way women metabolize drugs compared to men and hence there is a critical need for more inclusion of women in clinical research and trials, product development and direct marketing. An example for this is the FDA cutting the dosage of the sleeping pill Ambien for women to half what is required for men, as women metabolize the key ingredient Intermezzo at quicker rates than men.
Furthermore, women are keen on taking a proactive role in decisions concerning their day-to-day-lives such as their education, career, marriage, family planning, management of chronic conditions and elder care. They are also making great strides in terms of economic contribution, purchasing power and also in holding positions where they are either a primary decision maker or key influencer in a variety of scenarios. As women continue to play multiple roles individually and at a societal level, their health and well-being needs are increasingly being focused on. For improved outcomes, it will be critical to have healthcare solutions specific to their needs.
With more than $1 billion in funding between 2015 and 2018, Femtech is set to be the next big disruptor in the global healthcare market. Femtech involves the use of digital health applications such as software, diagnostics, products, and services to improve women's health. Frost & Sullivan recognizes that continued engagement and self-management is core to managing women's health issues. Personalized wellness and consumer healthcare technology has been a top-5 investment area in digital health for several years now, and Femtech in particular has benefited from this drive towards personalized care delivery. Since 2016, regulatory agencies have also approved digital applications for conventional women's health issues and this has paved the way for Femtech applications in the mainstream market. For instance, the first-ever mobile application for contraception from Natural Cycles received CE approval as a Class-Two medical device to be marketed in Europe in 2017, and the FDA approved Ava, a fertility tracking wearable as a Class-One medical device in 2016.
There are several established healthcare companies and startups in this space which use disruptive technology including artificial intelligence, machine learning, big data, and the Internet of Things to develop interactive digital health applications for women's health. For instance a recent study from Lehigh University, in Pennsylvania, used artificial intelligence for cervical screening and was proven to be several times more efficient than using Pap smear and HPV tests. The AI algorithm for recognizing cervical dysplasia removes the need for expensive equipment to run traditional tests. Currently, 80% of the incidence of cervical cancer is in developing countries where there are no national level screening programs and a Femtech application such as this will have the potential to make care accessible at affordable rates to millions of women at risk of cancer. Furthermore, there are several Femtech applications that work as a combination of a wearable or a medical device, with a mobile application. In this regard, technical advances such as sensor miniaturization and portability have also significantly contributed to the rise of Femtech.
Here are the top five growth opportunities in Femtech identified by Frost & Sullivan's transformation health program analysts which are going to disrupt the women's healthcare market.
Improving Access to Care for Women in Remote and Rural Areas
Women have pressing needs for making care more accessible to them, whether it is due to the demographics or the urban-rural divide. Socio-cultural norms also often consider women's healthcare issues as taboo subjects and make it difficult for women to seek medical care and healthcare advice, especially for infertility, menstrual health, birth control, and sexual wellness. There are several companies addressing this latent need, such as CareNX Innovations which provides smartphone-integrated point-of-care diagnostics accessible to women in rural India using healthcare aid workers. There are also digital healthcare chains such as Maven Clinic and Celes Care which are making care accessible virtually, exclusively to women in the comfort of their homes.Empowering Women to Manage Their Own Health Using Digital Technology More Cost Effectively
Globally, women are less likely to have insurance coverage compared to men and often have to pay more for their scheme because the average life expectancy for women is higher than for men. They are also more likely to pay out-of-pocket for healthcare as many of them do not have employer insurance coverage. Many Femtech applications have the ability to make healthcare management available to women at lower cost compared to conventional products. For instance, ovulation-cycle tracking applications such as Clue, Maya, Glow and Ava have not only made fertility management affordable and effective, but have also reduced undue side effects associated with conventional products such as contraceptive pills and intrauterine devices or even cycles of infertility treatment for women struggling to conceive. Most of these apps have a basic version that is available free of cost and have premium versions for which the consumer has to pay an annual subscription fee in the range of a few hundred dollars. For instance, in the U.S., an Ava fertility bracelet costs around $249 and the app itself is free for users with the purchase of the bracelet. On average, the cost of infertility treatment is around $11,000 in the U.S. and Femtech solutions give women an opportunity to use these applications for ovulation-cycle tracking before going for mainstream treatment which is often expensive and not covered in the basic healthcare coverage schemes.Digital Health Is Changing the Landscape of Reproductive Health, Pregnancy, and Nursing Care
Fertility, pregnancy care and maternal care are major areas of concern, especially for women opting for later pregnancies or who are at higher risk of complications due to physiological factors. From egg freezing, embryo screening, and fertility treatments to mobile apps and wearables for the self-tracking of ovulation cycles, digital health is changing the landscape of reproductive health. In services related to egg freezing, embryo screening, and fertility treatments, there are several well-funded startups, including Prelude and Progyny. Femtech is also making great strides in prenatal screening, postnatal care and maternal health including breast feeding and pregnancy-related conditions such as gestational diabetes, hypertension, etc. An example of this is GDm-Health developed by Drayson Technologies, the first patient-to-clinician mobile application for tracking gestational diabetes which was approved by the NHS, in 2017, to be part of the NHS Digital Tools Library in the UK.New Approaches, Based on Prevention, Societal Change and Technology Are Supporting the Management of Specific Female Chronic Diseases
On average, 38% of women across the world suffer from a chronic disease, accounting for one-third of female mortality. The incidence of chronic diseases increases drastically in women above the age of 64 and a large proportion of elderly women have limited options for care, often with no assistance or support from caregivers. There are several chronic diseases which are more prevalent in women and that need to be managed differently for women and men, such as osteoporosis, arthritis and hypertension. From apps for creating awareness, health coaching and medication management to technology-enabled solutions for accurate screening and diagnosis of chronic diseases, Femtech finds several applications in this area. An example of a company disrupting this space is MobileODT that has an FDA-approved colposcope and enhanced visual assessment solution combining high-quality medical-grade image and video capture using smart devices for cervical cancer screening. The impact of such Femtech applications in making screening accessible and scalable up to a large population is very high, especially for challenges such as cervical cancer screening in low-resource settings, which account for 80% of cervical cancer incidence and 95% of cervical cancer mortality.Improving Women's Overall Health and Wellness: Managing Stress, Sleep, Exercise, Eating Healthy, and Anxiety
At the top level, Femtech offers several advantages such as making healthcare minimally invasive, less intrusive, more practical, and personalized to the needs of the patient. It has high potential for improving efficiency of screening and diagnosis powered by cutting-edge technology such as artificial intelligence, big data and analytics. Within general wellness, areas that Femtech can impact positively include pelvic and uterine health, urogenital health, menstrual health and nutrition and fitness. Another area in women's health that demands significant attention is mental health, particularly depression (including postpartum) and anxiety.
To sum up, though the benefits of Femtech are increasingly being recognized, there is a lack of visibility and communication about Femtech applications to women users and to the healthcare professionals who are key influencers. Insights into the drivers and motivating factors that increase usage, enhance patient perception, and encourage better engagement, will be critical for Femtech to reach its maximum potential.