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Closing the gender health gap: is tech the saviour of women’s health?

Photograph of Giant Health panel discussion. Featuring Dr. Michelle Griffin, Director at MFG Health Consulting, Fiona Sweny, Digital Health and Innovation at Holland & Barrett, Dr Karolina Afors, Co-Founder/CEO of Liberum Health, and Sarah Bolt, CEO and Co-founder of Forth & Forth Edge.
Photograph by Giant Health

On the 6th-7th December 2022 Thrive Wearables returned to Giant Health 2022. It was fantastic to be back exhibiting and connecting with like-minded people with a mission to evolve healthcare. Our CEO, Dr. Jacob Skinner, was asked to act as the Chair of the Champions of Innovation Track and spoke to pioneers driving transformation as well as hearing directly from leading companies on how they are tackling developments in the healthcare industry. Both days were jam-packed with incredible talks and panels from thought leaders as well as plenty of opportunities to network and learn. Continue reading to find out what happened during the Champions of Innovation show and the key points we think you should know about.

The first talk of the day was a panel discussion on whether technology could be the saviour of women’s health led by Dr. Michelle Griffin, Director at MFG Health Consulting, who offers strategy and advice for the Women's Healthcare and Healthtech Sector. Michelle was also joined by Fiona Sweny, Digital Health and Innovation at Holland & Barrett, Dr Karolina Afors, Co-Founder/CEO of Liberum Health, and Sarah Bolt, CEO and Co-founder of Forth & Forth Edge.

Women’s health continues to be underfunded and lacking in support. A variety of studies have shown that in many areas of healthcare, women experience poorer outcomes. For example, in 2016, researchers at University College London found that women with dementia receive worse medical treatment than men with the condition. They also discovered that women make fewer visits to the GP, receive less health monitoring, and take more potentially harmful medication. More recently, research by YouGov, found that female, non-binary, and trans male patients are much more likely to not feel listened to from their healthcare professional. 23% said they were left disappointed by the way their concerns were handled.

For a long time, women weren’t utilised in clinical trials due to frequent fluctuations in hormones which resulted in women being deemed as too difficult to study. This is definitely not the case and this prejudice should no longer continue. Female genetics and hormonal makeup should not be used as an excuse to eliminate women from studies. It has also come to light that women are 50–75% more likely to have adverse drug reactions due to physical and biological differences not being considered. Data on female health should be utilised to ensure they are provided with adequate information and support on the drugs that they are being encouraged to take.

“wearable tech has the power to shift the dial of women’s health.”

How can women's health begin to weave itself into a top priority? How can we make it more accessible?

These are the key questions we need to address in order to push this change and reduce the gender health gap. More personalised and individualised healthcare packages could be the key, along with the support from technology, sensors, and biometric insight from wearable devices.

Dr Afors stated that “We must realise the way we respond to drugs is different. Women are twice as likely to suffer a serious drug reaction in comparison to men. We need to use that knowledge and use digital health to complement that.” The panel agreed that changes need to be made and how drugs affect women must be considered to ensure harm is prevented. Bolt supported this point and stated “these tech companies are collecting huge data sets, these data sets are key as they will be valuable in closing the gender health gap.” Some of the benefits of using big data include: cost reduction, real-time care, follow-up care and preventing medication error as mentioned by Dr Afors. The capabilities of big data are expected to continue to grow with technological support and ultimately, save more lives.

What are your predictions or wishes going forward?

Women’s health is continuing to change and Afors stated that “it's about being proactive rather than reactive by educating us about our own health and putting in simple measures (behavioural or optimising medication) before it becomes a real problem.” Afors continued to explain how the health culture in the UK is that you usually go to the doctors if you already have a problem and due to this our health can suffer. There's an opportunity for a “financial incentive that will reduce sick days to contribute to the workforce” by increasing preventative and predictive care.

Bolt addressed the question by highlighting that women are becoming more aware of the gender health gap inequality and more companies are forming as a result of this. Women are also engaging in the prevention health agenda and “want to feel more confident that they understand their own health.”

Bolt went on to state that the number of FemTech startups will increase - although FemTech is already fragmented, women are not going to want to go to ten different companies regarding their health so there needs to be some consolidation. Sweny stressed that the need for consolidation of the market and the use of big data is necessary to support women in health and concluded that “wearable tech has the power to shift the dial of women’s health.”

So, is tech the saviour of women’s health? Historically, women’s health has been an afterthought and tackling the gender health gap won’t be resolved simply by adding tech to the equation. Health leaders must strive to do more by conducting more clinical trials to fill in data gaps and supporting key research. Innovations from FemTech will definitely help with change but technology is only a part of an important hybrid model in which women are given the choice of how they want to interact with healthcare.

It is crucial the healthcare industry strives to do more and continues to address the gender health gap and we were thrilled to be present during this discussion. FemTech is close to our heart at Thrive and our goal is to continue collaborating with companies who are striving to make a positive impact. If you or someone you know would be interested in collaborating with us to create a FemTech wearable device please get in touch with us.

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