Investment in femtech soared over the last decade. In August 2021, femtech startups raised $1.3 billion in funding—nearly double the funding for the entirety of 2020. The term "femtech," coined by Clue app founder Ida Tin, refers to a range of technology (including digital health) designed to address women's biological needs.
Research has shown that younger women especially enjoy the convenience of virtual care, as evidenced by women comprising nearly two-thirds of telehealth provider MDLive's users. Now more than ever before, health systems are looking to partner with femtech companies to improve the health of women and nonbinary people.
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3 steps to maximize the potential of femtech
1. Consider the gaps in women's and nonbinary people's health care
Femtech is a unique opportunity for health systems to bridge the gaps in care, particularly in the highly stigmatized area of sexual and reproductive health. This includes family planning, menstruation, menopause, transgender sexual and reproductive care, and sexually transmitted diseases.
Health systems looking to make the most of femtech can examine the gaps in their sexual and reproductive health offerings using community health needs assessments and consumer surveys.
Femtech companies aiming to fill these long-standing gaps in care include:
- Fertility startup Kindbody prides itself on offering fertility and family-building services to people of all races, gender identities, and sexual orientations. One of the main features of the Kindbody patient experience is a range of services both at traditional brick-and mortar locations and virtually on their telehealth platform.
- Gennev is another company looking to combat stigma by offering patients virtual menopause diagnosis and treatment. Gennev also provides health coaching, wellness products, and a virtual community to help menopausal and postmenopausal patients connect with others experiencing similar symptoms.
2. Apply a health equity lens
Despite major strides in the last few decades, significant disparities are present in women and nonbinary people's health care. This is demonstrated by studies finding nearly 1 in 3 women saying their concerns are dismissed when seeking health care and over one-quarter of Black women in the United States reporting disrespectful maternity care.
Moreover, an estimated 10.8 million U.S. women are uninsured, with transgender adults more likely to be uninsured than cisgender adults. Lack of insurance hinders access to appropriate care and can worsen health outcomes. Femtech can build trust and empower underserved populations through information and resource sharing, as well as improve access to care.
Femtech companies seeking to reduce disparities in women's health include:
- Health in her HUE connects women and nonbinary people of color to approximately 1,000 culturally sensitive providers, including doctors, midwives, and doulas, on its digital platform. The company aims to empower historically marginalized patients to engage and access health and wellness.
- Plume is a mobile health application focused on increasing access to gender-affirming care and resources for trans individuals. The company is planning to add primary and behavioral care to its services in the upcoming year.
3. Look for suitable femtech partners to address the gaps
Health systems with successful partnerships identify mature femtech startups with products that address the needs of their populations of interest. We recommend health systems establish partnerships with a clear understanding of internal capacity and femtech partner capabilities.
The FemTech Collective aims to catalyze and exponentially grow health technologies for women and nonbinary people by finding synergies between stakeholders within the network. Building strong relationships across the industry can ultimately improve care for women and nonbinary people.
Femtech companies that are working with partners to address gaps include:
- CommonSpirit Health is working with Tia, a hybrid women's health provider, to bring virtual-first care to its 137 hospitals and more than 1,000 clinics. The goal is to guide women at every stage on physical, mental, and emotional health care and prevention.
- Maven Clinic is a digital health clinic for women's and family health, including fertility, pregnancy, parenting, and surrogacy services. The company has partnerships with a range of stakeholders including MassHealth (MA Medicaid and CHIP), Castlight (a health navigation platform), and The Fertility Partners (network of fertility clinics across North America), and PlanSource (provider of cloud-based benefits administration technology).
Femtech is a burgeoning industry with the potential to close sexual and reproductive care gaps. But keep in mind its potential pitfalls. We know telehealth can exacerbate existing inequities in access to internet coverage, technology, and digital literacy.
Femtech products are also not always validated in diverse patient populations. In an evaluation of startup Sera's biomarker test (PreTRM) intended to reduce preterm birth, less than 1% of study participants identified as Black or African-American even though Black women are more likely to deliver premature babies in the United States. Health systems should carefully consider whether femtech products are best suited to address the needs of populations of interest.
How is your organization using femtech? Share your story with us by emailing Gabriela Marmolejos (firstname.lastname@example.org) and/or Jinia Sarkar (email@example.com).