This article was originally published on MediaPost.
Femtech, the application of technology to track and advance women’s health, has evolved over the past few years to improve women’s relationships with their healthcare providers and to give women a greater sense of autonomy over their bodies and health.
Frost & Sullivan recently released data on the growing femtech sector, projecting a market potential of $50 billion by 2025. How reliable is this technology, and does it actually improve women’s lives (or just exploit their concerns, as noted in this New Republic article)?
Advances show femtech’s potential to positively impact women, though there are a few watch-outs.
- Hefty acquisitions are bringing more visibility to the femtech sector. Procter & Gamble recently purchased femtech startup This is L. in a deal estimated at around $100 million.
- Women are making advances into the traditionally male-dominated healthcare venture capital funding space. In June 2018, Portfolia Funds, a venture platform financed almost exclusively by female investors, launched the world’s first femtech fund.
- Women value wearable devices that improve productivity and offer health information. The steady growth in the wearables market means women are creating huge new data sets that can be researched and analyzed.
Areas of caution:
- There are privacy concerns about the data women share with the companies that deliver femtech apps. One maker of a hugely popular period-tracking app turned out to be sharing users’ personal health information with Facebook in order to create targeted ads, as reported in The Wall Street Journal.
- As with any other type of app, Femtech apps can mislead to the point of causing irreparable harm. A 2016 study by Columbia University found that “most free smartphone menstrual cycle tracking apps for patient use are inaccurate.” A Swedish app made headlines after the European Union and the FDA certified it as a form of contraception, but scores of its users reported unwanted pregnancies after they relied on the app.
- “Women’s health” is still largely seen as relating to reproductive matters, so apps and technologies tend to fall into that category. While advances are being made in the field of fertility, the potential for advances in disease diagnosis and monitoring for issues that only or predominantly affect women remains less explored.
- Femtech can unintentionally offend. Many period-tracking apps make assumptions — such as that sexual partners are always male, or that women only track periods to either get pregnant or avoid getting pregnant instead of for reasons such as the identification of pain or mood patterns. This trivializes the medical aspect of women’s hormonal fluctuations in favor of the more commercially viable aspect of reproduction.
If the potential femtech has to truly advance women’s lives is reached and helps women’s health improve on a global scale, this may result in improved female representation in C-suites, in venture capital firms and on investor boards — which could have a positive effect on women’s access to quality healthcare, better education, and job opportunities, and, in turn, improve the lives of girls and women in realms that stretch beyond health.