The Future of Womens Care: How Technology Provides More Resources to Women
The unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic has completely uprooted the healthcare ecosystem, catapulting the adoption of telehealth and innovative technology. Telehealth’s exponential growth, which is 38 times higher than pre-pandemic levels, has enabled the emergence of new digital healthcare services focused on revolutionizing women’s healthcare.
From fertility tracking apps to Chronic Care Management, digital healthcare companies are “at the cutting edge of a growing market focused on women’s health … [with] the potential to reach almost $10 billion by 2024.” And it’s no surprise, given that women have unique healthcare needs, and historically have taken on the responsibility of overseeing their children and even their partner’s health in addition to their own.
This reality has spawned the need for tech that is accessible, easy to navigate, and highly personalized. Technology empowers women to embrace their own unique health.
The global femtech market — software and tech-enabled products that cater to women’s biological needs — is valued at $22 billion, and is expected to grow 15% in the next five years. With women spending an estimated $500 billion on medical expenses per year, there’s incredible potential for market growth. In 2020 alone, the industry received $520 million in venture capital investment.
To learn how technology provides more health-related resources for women, you must first understand what women’s healthcare entails.
What is women’s healthcare?
Women’s healthcare is a branch of medicine that diagnoses and treats conditions that affect the physical and psychological well-being of women.
Women’s care encompasses a variety of focus areas, including:
- Menopause and hormone therapy
- Cardiovascular disease
- Birth control, gynecology, and sexual health
- Pregnancy and childbirth
- Ovarian cancer, breast cancer, and other cancers that affect women
- Chronic reproductive disorders
While it’s no earth-shattering revelation that a woman’s body is different from a man’s, many people don’t realize that cellular biology is sex-specific. Every single cell in a person’s body has a chromosomal sex. Translation: a one-size-fits-all approach to disease management and treatment for men and women won’t effectively address inherent differences between the two sexes.
These fundamental differences have a direct impact on disease risk and prevention, diagnostic procedures, symptoms experienced, and responses to therapy. Women’s healthcare needs stem beyond fertility and pregnancy, including areas like cardiovascular health.
Let’s take heart disease, for example. The Office on Women’s Health shares, “Women are less likely than men to experience the classic symptoms of a heart attack. And traditional diagnostic procedures are not optimal for women — sometimes resulting in a delayed diagnosis or misdiagnosis. Also, because women are diagnosed with heart disease 10 years later than men, on average, they are more likely to have other chronic diseases at the same time.”
Sex-specific care for women is imperative for bolstering positive outcomes. As Michelle Williams, dean at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health says, “Women’s health is the root of public health.” As Devex so eloquently puts it, they’re not only consumers themselves, but gatekeepers for care-related decisions in their families and drivers of health in their communities. “Given the link between women’s health outcomes and the health of society at large, the healthcare industry should widen the aperture of how it thinks about women’s health tech.”
Benefits of technology in relation to women’s healthcare
Novel technology and solutions are helping women live longer, healthier lives. Medical technology is broadening accessibility and affordability — covering everything from life-saving diagnostic procedures to preventive screenings. This is particularly powerful for underserved populations and developing countries.
Promoting daily well-being via real-time monitoring can lead to early diagnosis and intervention. For instance, according to the CDC, a heartbreaking 700 women die each year in the U.S. due to pregnancy-related complications. Utilizing technology to initiate prenatal care and provide continual monitoring throughout the pregnancy will help to effectively treat and prevent these complications.
New technologies allow women to manage their healthcare on a more accurate, personalized level. From post-menopausal medications to diagnostic devices, women’s care is getting a long-overdue makeover.
How is technology providing resources to women?
Just like women, technology comes in all shapes and sizes. There are at-home fertility tests, telemedicine platforms, handheld devices that can detect breast tumor tissue, wearables that track menstrual cycles, wellness apps, and more. While there’s a myriad of devices and applications, here’s a look at some of the most utilized tech for women’s care.
Remote-patient monitoring and easier screenings
By harnessing the power of machine learning and artificial intelligence, many companies are delivering hyper-personalized healthcare experiences for women. Virtual visits, remote monitoring, and portable diagnostic devices are providing doctors with a wider breadth of outlets to connect and engage with patients.
Portable ultrasounds, for instance, are more cost-effective, accessible, and can even be administered by a doctor in the home. As CFR shares, “Portable ultrasounds are not only crucial for maternal care, but can also be used for emergency healthcare, biopsies, and regional anesthesia — any procedure that would benefit from imaging the inside of a patient’s body. As ultrasounds become accessible to remote and underfunded clinics, women will have access not only to better pregnancy care, but also to preventative treatment, timely diagnosis, and improved emergency care.”
Mobile phones are also being leveraged to improve access to vital care for women. Digital health programs serve a wide range of functions — providing remote consultations, sending alerts for check-ups or immunizations, tracking pregnancy information, facilitating access to health clinics, and more.
For the treatment of chronic conditions, healthcare institutions can employ the use of remote technology to analyze and monitor long-term ailments. Pennsylvania-based Capital BlueCross, together with Geneia, a healthcare analytic solutions and services company, conducted a year-long remote monitoring study for patients diagnosed with heart failure. The program yielded a reduction in hospital admissions that resulted in $8,375 of savings annually for each participating patient.
Better connectivity and ease-of-use in smartphone apps and digital platforms are encouraging women to participate more in their care. Telemedicine can effectively nurture the physician-patient relationship while bridging traditional communication gaps — allowing for early identification and diagnosis of medical issues.
Telemedicine also has a broader reach than traditional in-office care, allowing women in rural or underserved regions the opportunity to consult with specialists across the nation via virtual channels and remote monitoring systems.
Through remote monitoring technology, doctors can access real-time analytics like a patient’s heart rate or blood pressure — crucial for optimizing care for women who are grappling with chronic conditions. Should any vital signs suddenly plunge into risky territory, a physician could take immediate action and deliver the necessary care. From diabetes to digestive diseases, telemedicine can act as a source of empowerment for women managing chronic conditions.
Detecting potential issues earlier
Artificial intelligence is being leveraged to promote early detection. Lehigh University researchers created a cutting-edge algorithm that uses AI to help recognize cervical dysplasia. The technology can be used to replace expensive equipment designed to run traditional HPV and Pap smear tests, effectively saving lives through preventive care and screenings.
In a similar vein, researchers from Drexel University sought to broaden access to mammograms and drive early diagnosis of breast cancer. Their device, the iBreastExam, is a battery-operated, hand-held tool capable of identifying breast cancer tissue without the use of radiation. What’s more, the results only take minutes to procure, and they’re delivered via a mobile app that accompanies the device.
Healthcare technology is empowering women to take their health into their own hands. A big focus is being placed on strengthening resources that’ll support women’s pelvic, reproductive, and sexual health. Events like menopause and childbirth can weaken crucial pelvic floor muscles over time. At-home devices, like the one offered by Athena, helps strengthen and rehabilitate these muscles while also providing a form of treatment for urinary incontinence.
Other diagnostic products that promote enhanced wellness for female sexual health include
at-home testing kits for STIs and HPV, menstrual tracking apps, and fertility tracking apps.
The future of women’s healthcare
Human ingenuity paired with the power of technology has opened the doorway for advancements in women’s care. As startups and companies in the women’s health space continue gaining momentum, we can expect to see the market quickly proliferate with new technologies and regulatory approvals.
Digital health apps and connected devices are expertly weaving together technology with women’s health offerings to bolster accessibility, early detection, and the monitoring of chronic diseases. Through continued advancements in areas like IoT sensors and artificial intelligence, we can expect to see new developments in the women’s health space — increasing education and product innovation.
Welkin Health strives to be a pioneer in supporting the future of patient-centered care programs for women. The Welkin Care Management platform supports femtech organizations in improving patient outcomes, increasing patient engagement, and ensuring continuity of care.
To learn more about making the shift to a patient-centered practice, read our Definitive Guide to Patient-Centered Care.