Digitalization In Women’s Health
May 4, 2023
12 min readAdd to Favourite
May 4, 2023
12 min readAdd to Favourite
The pandemic has accelerated the adoption of digitalization in almost all sectors and health care is no exception. The emergence of digital health care has also supported the rise of FemTechs that are exploring business opportunities in women’s health care. Despite progress in women’s health care domain, several challenges persist, like – lack of access to information, limited access to health care providers and support, reluctance to discuss sensitive health issues, and difficulty in monitoring and tracking their health with time. With the growing use of digital technologies, women’s health care is now more accessible, convenient, and personalized than ever before, wherein such digital platforms have made it possible to disseminate accurate and up-to-date health information to women. Women’s digital health care can include multiple areas such as reproductive care, pelvic care, pregnancy & nursing care, breast care, mental health, and general health care & wellness, etc. Digital coaching for general health care & wellness and pelvic floor training are two areas within women’s health care where digital technologies and innovative start-ups are making significant contributions. Digital health coaching involves using digital tools, such as mobile apps, to provide coaching and guidance to women who are looking to improve their health and wellness. Whereas pelvic floor training involves exercises that can help strengthen the pelvic floor muscles. In this article, we will explore how digitalization is disrupting pelvic care and general healthcare segments in women’s health.
Innovative digital solutions intended to address various women’s health issues are becoming an area of increased focus in the recent past. Solutions ranging from mobile applications guiding about nutrition, and health parameters, to AI-enabled breast cancer screening devices, etc. are already making waves. Though the adoption of digital technology has the potential to unlock access to services & empower women with information tailored to their individual needs & lifestyle, still there are challenges that the overall segment is still grappling with. It has also been long observed that women tend to postpone doctor visits, put their health on the back and prioritize other tasks over their health, etc. Some of the common challenges that are hindering the digitalization of women’s health care are presented below.
To address the above-mentioned challenges and make women’s health more efficient and accessible various digital solutions are emerging. Multiple initiatives are being taken by industry stakeholders and researchers to introduce technological remedies into the system including mobile apps, software, wearables, etc. to cater to women’s needs & requirements. Although there is tremendous growth in women’s digital health sector, going forward, it shall be interesting to see how the digital revolution can benefit specific areas like health coaching and pelvic floor training.
A digital health coach is a type of technology-based solution providing personalized health support and a personalized plan to achieve those goals that can include a wide range of activities like exercise, nutrition advice, stress management, and self-care. Such health coaches are also active in providing support in areas like reproductive health, fertility, menopause, stress management, and healthy lifestyle habits.
Due to changing dynamics in women’s responsibilities, the usage of different types of apps providing information and assistance to lead different tasks has become more crucial these days. For e.g., apps providing information/ coaching tools to assist them in achieving their health-related goals have reshaped the entire fitness segment from both manufacturer and consumer perspectives. Further, such digital health coaching apps provide women with the convenience of accessing health coaching services at more affordable prices than in-person doctor consultations. Also, these apps provide a high level of personalization which helps women to achieve their health goals with a greater degree of privacy and anonymity than traditional coaching services.
There are several user-friendly coaching apps available:
A few exemplary entities focusing on different attributes associated with women’s health space are listed below.
The most focused areas in women’s health being targeted by various players are summarized in Exhibit-3. Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is the most focused area by all types of players. Menstrual health is an emerging area, as various start-ups are entering this domain. Grace Health is one start-up that provides a virtual health assistant for helping women to keep track of their periods and give instant replies to sexual & reproductive health questions, 24/7. By tracking the cycle and symptoms users get AI-based period and ovulation predictions to support them on their journey to conceive or avoid getting pregnant.
Pelvic floor dysfunction is the inability to correctly relax and coordinate the muscles present in the pelvic organs (uterus, bladder, and rectum). It is estimated that >30% of adult women experience some kind of pelvic floor dysfunction. Urinary incontinence, fecal incontinence, and vaginal prolapse are the three most common types of pelvic floor disorders. In the United States alone, >60% of women experience urinary incontinence. There are several factors that can lead to weakness of pelvic floor muscles including pregnancy and childbirth, menopause, straining on the toilet, persistent cough, pelvic surgery, radiotherapy, heavy weightlifting, high-impact exercise, age, and high body weight. Women born with weaker connective tissue and facia are also susceptible to pelvic floor dysfunction. Frequent and painful urination, constipation, leaking urine/stool, and pain in the pelvic area are some of the major symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction. Fortunately, pelvic floor disorders can be treated in most cases. The treatment technology may involve the use of hardware-based solutions like muscle strengthening devices, as well as software-based solutions like mobile applications. The training devices help to improve pelvic muscle strength, endurance, and relaxation in patients with pelvic floor dysfunction, whereas the mobile application helps in measuring, monitoring, and displaying exercise outcomes. Various solution types for treating muscle floor dysfunction are summarized below.
Pelvic floor dysfunction is treatable by non-surgical methods. The treatment may involve the use of sensor-based devices, biofeedback devices, physical therapy, medications, relaxation techniques, etc. The player ecosystem in this domain is mainly dominated by SMEs (>60% of the players focusing on digital solutions for pelvic floor exercises are SMEs). Most of these FemTech players are based out of the USA (>30%) followed by China and UK. Players in this sector are targeting multiple indications from incontinence to sexual health. Urinary incontinence is one of the most focused indications by the players (Renovia, BewellConnect, etc.). Fecal incontinence (Renovia), pelvic pain disorders (Sword Health), and sexual dysfunction (Maxim Hygiene) are also being considered by various players. Some of the key players in the domain are summarized below along with their technologies and products.
Apart from conventional biofeedback and sensor-based technologies, some players are coming up with advanced technologies, e.g., HIFEM (high-intensity focused electromagnetic field) is an emerging technology for muscle strengthening, toning, and firming. HITEM strengthens the targeted muscles by creating electric currents in the underlying tissue. BTL EMSELLA (developed by BTL Aesthetics) is an HIFEM-based device that offers an advanced and completely non-invasive treatment for incontinence. The device causes deep and intense pelvic-floor muscle contractions and helps in restoring neuromuscular control by causing thousands of supramaximal pelvic-floor muscle contractions in a single session. The company claims a 75% reduction in pad usage and a 95% improvement in quality of life after using BTL EMSELLA.
Digitalization has done significant disruptions in the healthcare sector, but women’s health is still a relatively untapped area for digital technologies. In the recent past, start-ups have started focusing on conventional women’s health issues like menstruation and fertility, but also on the requirements coming from the overall health & nutritional side and the fitness regimes to be followed by specific women segments. Recently, the use of a motion-based digital therapeutic device to guide pelvic floor muscle training led to greater improvement in urinary incontinence symptoms as compared with standard self-guided exercises. Also, the use of persuasive technology in the development of mobile apps can bring an ameliorating change in human behavior while improving adherence to the exercises & routines in the near future. There is a potential for digital health tools to improve women’s access to such services ranging from typical health issues to mental health as well, wherein the market stakeholders need to prioritize & strategize the focus towards areas that need immediate attention. Going forward, it shall be an interesting watch to see the amalgamation of consumer insights in live devices & applications to deliver results addressing health coaching & pelvic muscle training-related areas for women.
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