In this op-ed, Phoebe Gates explores the emergence of Femtech and its potential impact on healthcare.
Imagine that you’re suffering from a heart attack as you are rushed to the nearest emergency room. The pain in your chest has you on the verge of collapse. How long will you have to wait before a doctor sees you? Well, according to a 2021 NYU study, it depends on your gender. Young men wait an average of 37 minutes before they’re seen for heart attack-related symptoms. But women wait up to 10 minutes longer. Women suffering from a heart attack are also less likely to receive an electrocardiogram or cardiac monitoring compared to young men.
As discussions of bodily autonomy and America’s maternal mortality crisis peak, it has become undeniably clear that a staggering divide remains in the U.S. medical system over the lines of race, gender, and class. While a multitude of factors have made accessing medical care more difficult for some, we’re also seeing advances in technology aimed specifically at women. The Femtech revolution is here, and it’s trying to close the existing gaps in medicine care.
If you want a picture of the inequity in American society, it seems that medical facilities are the ideal venue. It’s not just wait times: Women also face higher rates of misdiagnosis and often have their pain disregarded. Research shows that non-hispanic Black patients are about half as likely to receive opioid prescriptions for certain ailments and are more than three times more likely to die as a result of pregnancy than their white counterparts.
Currently, women still account for only 36% of all physicians, and Black women account for only 3% of all physicians across the U.S. Medical textbooks are often biased toward diagnosing white people, and use largely images of men. This could have consequences for patients outside those slim parameters, including increasing gender disparities in misdiagnosis rates that can literally cost women their lives. It’s not all bad news, though: In 2019, female medical students outnumbered male students for the first time. However, is this enough to close the pervasive care gaps in medicine, or will it take the emergence of a new field to shake the systematic inequalities in health care?
The birth of Femtech offers new hope in delivering equitable healthcare to those whose agony has been overlooked for far too long.
The term “Femtech” was coined in 2016 by the Danish entrepreneur Ida Tin. The founder of the menstruation-tracking app called “Clue.” Now, Femtech has grown to encompass all products, diagnostics, and services created to improve women’s health outcomes. The emergence of the Femtech industry leverages technological innovations to challenge medical inequality.
Of course, the idea of Femtech has its critics. Some see the term as too diminutive and that we shouldn’t describe a field devoted to improving half the population’s health as “Fem.” Others honor the term for its emphasis on the vast neglect of gender equity in tech design, with even the standard smartphone sized to fit the male hand. Some criticize the term for its exclusion of trans and non-binary individuals. Words certainly matter, but so does impact: If Femtech is to address health equity, the field must deliver solutions to all populations, including the LGBTQ+ community that has been forced to endure the vast disparities and bias in healthcare delivery for far too long.