Author: Chidumebi Judith Idemili is a PhD student of Health Systems Research with emphasis on Health Technology Assessment and Global Health Specialization…
Author: Gayathri Delanerolle1,2
1Digital Evidence Based Medicine Lab
2Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust
Women represent just over 50% of the global population with an exponential growth in their healthcare demands. Within the context of technology companies that address specific women’s health issues, there appears to be a growing global technology market.6 As of 2019, the “Femtech” industry or the category of technology that is defined broadly by the technological advancements by way of diagnostics, products, tools and services to support women’s health, has assisted in managing key areas, such as lived experiences of women throughout their life-course including menarche, fertility, menopause, chronic conditions, hormonal disorders, sexual health, general health and wellness, pregnancy and maternal health. The term of “Femtech” was coined by Ida Tin who founded Clue, a menstruation tracking app.7 Femtech can be primarily categorised into 3 vital areas (Figure 1).
Wearable devices include smart devices such as fitness trackers and applications within smartwatches designed to monitor and track women’s health parameters, such as heart rate, sleep patterns, menstrual cycles and symptoms linked to a variety of diseases. Digital health apps are primarily considered as mobile applications developed to track disease characteristics such as periods, fertility, pregnancy monitoring, depression and anxiety. This is particularly helpful for researchers and clinicians to better understand diseases, treatment efficacy and design personalised care plans for patients. Symptom tracking in particular for complex chronic conditions such as endometriosis can be helpful to understand from an individualised perspective. For example, chronic pelvic pain, fatigue and menstrual irregularities could assist clinicians and patients understand patterns, triggers and severity of symptoms that can help design effective treatments in the future. Telemedicine focuses on remote healthcare services involving technologies that enable women to consult healthcare professionals virtually, access telehealth platforms for report diagnosis and treatment, receive expert medical advice and engage in remote monitoring of healthcare conditions. Remote consultations using virtual healthcare platforms have made it easier for clinicians and patients to access remote care easily. Femtech could also provide platforms for educational resources related to a variety of women’s health issues including valuable information about reproductive health, fertility treatments, emotional health and wellbeing.5
Increase in fertility issues can have a negative impact on individuals and couples. Fertility tracking and other technological tools could allow individuals to better track identify fertility windows, menstrual cycles and monitor key fertility indicators such as basal body temperature and cervical mucus consistency. This information could provide a better understanding of ovulation patterns to optimise their chances of conception and identify any irregularities that may require prolonged clinical management. Gathered data over a period of time could assist with developing artificial intelligence that could predict ovulation accurately. These types of Femtech apps could provide personalised recommendations and insights based on individual healthcare data. These recommendations could include lifestyle changes such as alcohol intake, dietary suggestions, and other factors such as smoking which can empower individuals to make informed choices and optimise their fertility journey.
Femtech generated $820.6 million in global revenue in 2019 alone, coupled with $592 million in venture capital investment.1 It is estimated Femtech may grow to $1.1 billion by 2024 as in Europe alone, Femtech has raised $190 million in 2019 and $98 million year to date in 2020.1,2 Comparatively, these figures are small as women’s medical expenses a year cost >$500 billion.3 Despite this, according to Forbes, most male investors show lack of engagement with Femtech ideas.3,4 In order for the market to successfully develop and expand, Femtech should be supported as it has demonstratable benefits to women’s health. Additionally, adequate validation by way of comprehensive clinical research to show true efficacy and effectiveness of said tools is important as it would also promote transparent and safe use of these sustainably.
Whilst Femtech offer numerous opportunities and benefits, there are considerations and complications within the global data privacy and security landscape. A primary concern is the handling of personal health data as users may provide sensitive information often in intimate details. Equally, ethical considerations around informed consent, data ownership, potential biases in algorithms or recommendations should also be made available to service users within an appropriate ethical framework to guide development, deployment and continuous use. Data encryptions, strict adherence to data protection regulations to safeguard user information and fit for purpose legislations could also assist with providing confidence to service users, researchers and clinicians. Reliability and accuracy is another aspect that requires consideration as mobile applications that act as diagnostic or clinical aid can be considered as medical devices. These types of technologies require validation and rigorous testing prior to implementation. Any claims made by such technology developers should be affirmed by scientific evidence to ensure accuracy, reliability and credibility. Health related decisions without consulting healthcare professionals can pose risks, as such these technologies should actively include clinicians during the entire developmental cycle to ensure any misinterpretation of data or self-diagnosis issues are removed within the system. Also, the cost of wearables or subscription fees should be affordable to ensure equitable access can be sustainably provided to all interested parties to use health related technologies.
It is important for women, healthcare professionals, researchers, policy makers and regulators to remain vigilant and address any concerns through ongoing scrutiny, evidence-based-research, independent oversight and user-friendly education. Stroking this balance between technological innovation, responsible development and sustainable use is vital to optimally benefit from Femtech.
- Fernandez M. Frost & Sullivan defines top Femtech global opportunities by 2024; https://www.frost.com/news/press-releases/frost-sullivan-defines-top-femtech-global-opportunities-by-2024
- Femtech in Europe; https://www.seedtable.com/femtech
- Is ‘femtech’ the next big thing in healthcare? https://www.deccanherald.com/science-and-environment/is-femtech-the-next-big-thing-in-healthcare-971795.html
- World population. (2021); https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/10.1089/cyber.2021.29230.editorial?url_ver=Z39.88-2003&rfr_id=ori%3Arid%3Acrossref.org&rfr_dat=cr_pub++0pubmed#B6
- Women’s Health in Focus at NIH. Vol. 3, issue 1, 2020. https://orwh.od.nih.gov/sites/orwh/files/docs/In_Focus_Volume_3_Issue_1_0.pdf
- The World Bank; https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.POP.TOTL.FE.ZS
- Forbes. (2022); https://www.forbes.com/sites/bryancollinseurope/2019/07/04/ida-tin-is-leading-the-charge-in-femtech-a-50b-industry/