Siddharth Shah, Program Manager, Transformational Health, Frost & Sullivan writes about several initiatives that the healthcare industry can explore to address unmet women’s health needs
As an analyst, I track the healthcare space every day, scouting for opportunities while observing trends and challenges for our clients. Frost & Sullivan team was involved in helping the US FDA better understand this space of women’s health, and was a knowledge partner, in the process of setting up the Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH) Health of Women Program. After our work with the US FDA, on what is now being defined as “Femtech,” our entire approach to this space changed.
As we dove deeper into women’s health needs, we realized that only a few areas had gained the attention they deserved. Breast cancer (mammography, screening, etc.) receives attention, but it does not necessarily serve the purpose of all women because solutions designed in the West may not work in the East from an access and cultural point of view. Even beyond the reimbursement and screening guidelines issue, women in the East may not be comfortable in undressing for breast cancer screening, for example.
An under-served area is menopause. When we saw the statistics, they were incredible. For example, few doctors are trained as menopause specialists, and until recently, there were few solutions available to help women in the menopausal stage. One billion women are expected to experience the effects of menopause in 2025. According to a survey conducted by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) shows that 84% of menopausal women believed that symptoms such as hot flashes, insomnia, night sweats and social isolation were interfering with daily lives.
More also needs to be done to address menstrual care, pelvic health, fertility solutions and pregnancy care. There are existing solutions available, but they don’t reach many of the women who need them, either because of access, affordability or not being the right cultural fit. Because of diverse cultures globally, the role of women in societies varies, and how they get access to care for their health needs differs. A solution designed for a particular region may not work in another. For example, a fertility tracking solution that is visible to others may make a woman’s position in society weaker in some parts of the world; a discrete solution is necessary.
There are several initiatives that the healthcare industry can explore to address unmet women’s health needs, including:
The current wave of Femtech solutions follows a B2C approach, targeting women directly and addressing their specific needs. Earlier diagnosis of endometriosis, discreet home delivery of women’s health products in regions with cultural sensitivity, or providing affordable fertility solutions are all approaches that are quick-wins. Our estimates suggest that for just menstrual care, fertility solutions (conception, contraception), pregnancy care, menopausal care and general women’s health (primary care), the market potential is almost $9.5 billion by 2024. In terms of the penetration levels of existing solutions, they barely scratch the surface, with our estimates suggesting penetration at about 6.6% globally. This indicates there is plenty of room to grow and expand for existing and new competitors.
As an industry, healthcare is moving toward the concept of precision medicine, ensuring treatments and therapies are customized to patients. However, one major missed factor is gender. It is widely accepted and acknowledged in the scientific community that women’s anatomies and hormonal differences make the development of disease as well as their response to treatments different than men’s. It is quite likely, for example, that women of different ages may react differently to the same dose of drugs, too.
In the long term and as part of precision medicine efforts, the academic research community, as well as the healthcare industry’s research and development efforts, must focus more on one important parameter of precision medicine – gender. In the future, drug dosages or the features of medical devices should be different for women and men, allowing for more personalized therapy.
Women’s health is an important overlooked area that needs the attention of the entire healthcare industry, especially when the industry is searching for the next growth opportunity. Some medical device companies have already made this a focus. The potential exists and is available to those willing to take advantage of it.