“Women are not small men”. This is what Dr Paula Johnson stated in 2016 while talking about the importance of women’s health.1 Historically, women and women’s health have been overlooked in medical fields. They have frequently been excluded from medical studies, with women only making up 24% of clinical trial participants for FDA drugs between 2010 and 2013.2 This has led to a lack of understanding of how diseases, and ultimately their treatment, can affect women differently compared to men. For example, early research in cardiovascular disease, a top killer among both men and women, largely involved male subjects, leading to the hallmark symptoms of heart attacks being taught as pain in the left arm and chest. Women, however, owing to different underlying biology and risk factors, are reported to be more likely to experience other symptoms, which are often labelled as “atypical.” As a result, women are 50% more likely than men to be misdiagnosed following a heart attack and more likely than men to die from heart attacks.3
THREE OPPORTUNITIES FOR WOMEN’S HEALTH
This won’t come as a shock to men or women. What it poses is a striking opportunity for consumer health companies to put women’s health at the forefront of their strategy. Not only to fix the embedded issues in healthcare when it comes to women, but to understand the complexities in women’s health and the opportunities this brings. This can be shown in three key areas.
1. Focus on self-care and innovative health
Women are increasingly interested in taking control of their health and well-being through self-care practices and innovative health technologies. We are already seeing wearable companies pairing with women-specific health companies – most recently Ouru ring pairing with Natural Cycles to provide alternative hormone-free contraception. Additionally, Nuvo, a pregnancy tech company, has launched the first FDA cleared remote pregnancy monitoring wearable. Surveys by Rock Health, between 2018 and 2020, found that women used particular digital health tools at lower rates than men4, suggesting that although strides are being made there is still an urgent gap in the market to ensure digital health tools are built to cater to women’s health needs.
2. Healthcare concerns
In addition to being historically overlooked in medical research, women face several additional healthcare concerns that span their whole lives, affecting them daily. There is a huge opportunity for companies to help women relieve symptoms while also being profitable as a business.
Periods – how we talk about them and treat the symptoms are ever evolving. With women wanting a more sustainable approach to managing their periods, menstrual cups were already around a $1 billion market by 2021 in the US alone.5 Period tracking apps have been rising in popularity, with some users claiming the apps give them relief and help them feel more prepared for their periods. However, there is an opportunity for further advances in this technology, with reports of anxiety around the privacy of these apps with the US Supreme Court 2022 decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade and critique of them not providing effective period pain content. 6
Female contraception is radically changing. More women than ever are moving away from the contraceptive pill and hormone-related contraception. Consumer health companies have the opportunity to reinvent contraceptive options.
Menopause – this can bring extremely uncomfortable symptoms for women, such as hot flashes and mood swings. A variety of products, ranging from hormone replacement therapy to natural remedies, are being developed, with the market size of global menopause therapeutics already valued at $16.9 billion.7
3. Spending power
Women have been named the ‘power buyers’ in healthcare, making around 80% of the healthcare decisions for themselves and their families, all within a $4 trillion industry.8 Not only do they control the spending, but women, as generally the primary caregivers, are more likely than men to research health topics and use online resources to inform these health decisions.9 They are therefore more likely to explore, and ultimately spend, on new innovation options for their own and family’s health.
SO, WHAT’S NEXT?
Despite all this, only 5% of digital health dollars are going into women’s health, and even fewer of these dollars are going into research and development for new products, new services and research focused explicitly on the needs of women. With women’s heightened engagement in innovative health, life-long additional health needs and being the ones who engage and spend more in the market, consumer health companies will be amiss not to focus some of their strategic initiatives specifically on women’s health, growing their market share and aiding women in their health journey along the way.