The Rise and Trajectory of FemTech

In a time where areas of women’s health, namely bodily autonomy and reproductive rights, are at the forefront of many political discussions, safely and easily accessing necessary information is more important than ever. Could FemTech be a step toward access and equity for those who otherwise may be hindered from accessing this information? 

A brief history

“FemTech” is a term first coined in 2016 by Ida Tin, Danish Entrepreneur and creator of Clue, one of the first FemTech services. Clue came on the market in 2013 as one of the very first cycle and ovulation tracking apps, and still considers itself to be a thought leader in FemTech today. Ida Tin saw not only a gap in the market, but also discomfort discussing women’s health, and she felt that the term “FemTech” would help uncover a valuable market. The valuation of the FemTech market was estimated at 40 billion dollars in 2020 and thanks to an estimated 13.3% consolidated annual growth rate, expected to meet 1.19 trillion dollars by 2027.

Clue’s period tracking feature

Femtech busted onto the scene and is not going anywhere. In fact, since its inception, FemTech has broadened greatly from a focus on menstruation and reproductive care, to less-widely discussed (and often taboo) topics such as breast care, hormonal disorders (such as PCOS), mental health care, and menopause. The appetite from its end-users has shown how vital products and services specific to the needs of women really are*. 

Fertility and FemTech

As a pregnant woman myself (37 weeks at the time of writing this article), I have personally experienced the benefits that FemTech services, such as fertility and pregnancy milestone tracking, have had in my experience with my first pregnancy. The educational aspects that are interwoven in these products alone have soothed anxieties (“Is this normal?”, “Why does this hurt?”, “Is it okay that I’ve only eaten bagels for two solid weeks?”), increased my overall awareness of what I was feeling and what to anticipate in the future, and brought a lot of joy to this experience (see Baby List’s size guide images below). 

Baby List’s fun take on baby size milestones

What fertility-centered FemTech brings to the world of women’s health is accessibility, 1 in 6 couples struggle with fertility, and many doctors will not discuss potential infertility until after a year of trying to conceive. The time and money spent to access resources are not realistic for most couples. What’s more, three-quarters of private insurance companies do not cover the medical costs associated with infertility, resulting in thousands of dollars spent out-of-pocket by individuals. Femtech products like Hertility hope to save time and money by making fertility testing affordable and convenient. Hertility offers an at-home comprehensive fertility test at an out-of-pocket cost of £150 ($188 USD), which includes a health screen questionnaire, and a review of results with a gynecologist. They offer results within 10 days and have a team of experts to follow you through follow-up care – a major win in more equitable care. 

Breaking the taboo around menopause

As a cisgender woman interested in having children, I am often what people think of as a target end user of many FemTech products, there are many products that have emerged that are increasing representation for those once neglected by this market. One of the largest such populations benefitting from this broadening are those experiencing menopause. An estimated 6,000 people daily and 2 million people annually enter menopause in the United States alone, according to the Mayo Clinic. Menopause, from its onset (called perimenopause) to its conclusion (called postmenopause) can last anywhere from 7 to 14 years on average, meaning a significant amount of life is spent in these phases, yet there is a large amount of white space in the area of mid-life healthcare.

Cloudberry recently assisted in research for one such FemTech product, hoping to bridge the gap for this population. In our research, we interviewed a number of women in each stage to understand their experience since diagnosis and what they wanted to see on the market. Overwhelmingly, we heard that a lack of education throughout their lifetime led many to not understand they had reached menopause, and even once they had, they were unsure of where to turn for credible information. 

Menopause continues to be a taboo topic, and a 2019 study found that 20% of residents in family medicine had no menopause lectures and less than 7% felt “adequately prepared to manage menopause,” meaning that turning to trusted medical professionals did not always yield the information they sought. Once again, FemTech is able to step in and fill in the gaps. 

Products like Caria, Midi, and Gennev are breaking the taboo and giving those experiencing menopause a safe place to share their stories, learn about what’s to come, and even purchase products like supplements or sheets to curb night sweats. 

FemTech companies and the healthcare realms they serve

Areas for improvement

FemTech products and services are not without their flaws and criticisms, of course. The majority of these complaints center around diversity and inclusion and data security.  

Diverse representation

The target market of many of these products is often for cisgender women, which means a large population is left feeling alienated by the language and sentiment of these apps and products. Companies like Folx Health, however, are working to create an inclusive space within FemTech for the LGBTQIA+ community, increasing access to many once left out of the conversation. 

Additionally, many features that are of particular use, such as those for tracking fertility, sit behind subscription paywalls, an issue that is fraught with its own intricacies as healthcare companies work to find a balance between access and solvency. Financial barriers in FemTech, while often less than those of traditional in-office healthcare, can be a sizable inhibitor for users. 

What’s more, inclusion in FemTech also means designing for the least-educated user and avoiding assumptions about users’ knowledge of their own health. A study conducted for period tracking company Spot On found that many potential users were confused by language around their menstrual health, such as “confusing their ‘period’ with their ‘cycle’” and not understanding how hormonal birth control affected their cycles. As with designing for nearly all products, beginning with your greenest users will inherently help all users. 

Dangers in data security (or lack thereof)

In order to create a positive, curated user experience while dealing with often vulnerable topics, these products must collect some information from their users. Many FemTech companies, however, particularly those used for period and fertility tracking, saw an exodus in recent years as concerns of data privacy surfaced. While it is assumed that all health-related companies must adhere to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), recent studies, such as one conducted by Mozilla have found that multiple companies (even those that have a privacy policy in place) continue to sell health data of its users without consent – an eery concept that does not instill confidence at best, and poses personal safety risks at worst. 

What’s next for FemTech? 

While there are those who continue to believe that FemTech is a “niche” market, it is clear that there is still so much to explore and improve upon, as it pertains to equitable access to women’s health, but the trend is unequivocally positive. With increased investment and a continuation of the societal shift toward prioritization of women’s health issues, access to information and care can expand to meet the needs of groups once overlooked. 

What does FemTech offer for you? Where do you see white space in the industry? What can be done to close the gap? 

*While this article uses some gender-specific language as it pertains to “women’s health,” it is important to remember that not all who want and need access to FemTech products identify with this gender or language. 

Categories: Cloudberry, Experience Design, FemTech, Healthcare, Technology
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