The next year will be a critical one for women’s healthcare, according to Elizabeth Ruzzo, PhD and CEO and Founder of adyn. Ruzzo knows firsthand how important it is to choose the right birth control. After becoming severely depressed and having suicidal thoughts on the pill, she consulted with a doctor, only to experience medical gaslighting about her symptoms.
Below are five important predictions Ruzzo sees in women’s healthcare (femtech) in 2022.
1. Women’s reproductive rights are under attack.
SB8 and Dobbs v. Jackson show disturbing traction for overturning Roe v Wade. The US is suffering from fundamental ignorance around the biological/physiological/psychological experience of miscarriage, and how a medical procedure known as an abortion may factor into a pregnant person’s care protocol. As someone observed on Twitter, corpses have more bodily autonomy than women.
We’re seeing a sense of alarm play out in consumer search behavior too. The graph below shows the relative search interest (1 = low interest, 100 = peak interest) for the term “how effective is plan b” from 2004 – current. People want to know that they can rely on Plan B. The sentiment and legislation around abortion could easily be related.
2. Increased demand for birth control given anti-abortion legislation.
Access to birth control is hindered by not only contraceptive deserts but also by insurance policies and loopholes that block complete access/affordability. The ACA was supposed to make birth control 100% covered by insurers but in reality, 50% of contraceptive prescriptions are denied by the insurer.
Of the 66 million women of reproductive age living in the US, >19M are in need of publicly funded contraception. Among that 19 million, 97% currently live in contraceptive deserts—that is, they lack reasonable access in their county to a health center that offers the full range of contraceptive methods. Research shows that the need for birth control has already increased since S.B. 8 took effect in September 2021.
3. Women as decision-makers that healthcare companies need to pay attention to.
Women make 80% of the healthcare spending decisions. They make selections that are reliable and convenient for both themselves and their family members. COVID-19 has further legitimized both at-home diagnostics and telemedicine. Telemedicine was widely adopted and covered by insurance across the US, and we expect many states to extend coverage beyond emergency use as a result of the pandemic. Telemedicine has also been adopted by women at higher rates than men (e.g. Teladoc reported that in the first quarter of 2021, women accounted for 64% of general medical visits vs. men 36%.) We’ve also seen that women are 75% more likely to use digital health tools.
4. Precision medicine for owning your own health.
Consumers are increasingly seeking more personalization, from skincare to birth control. Millennials and Gen Z in particular expect a healthcare experience that is not one-size-fits-all. The increase in at-home testing and personalized health solutions is filling gaps in what traditional healthcare provides. A lot of companies are jumping on the personalization bandwagon – the ones that succeed will be those that provide medically actionable results that consumers can use to make decisions about their health.
Search interest in terms like “birth control for me”, “best birth control for…”, and “which birth control is best” is continuing to increase, signaling that consumers recognize that birth control is not one-size-fits-all and that they’re actively seeking out support/resources/tools/information to make an informed, personal choice.
5. Closing research gaps and destigmatizing female biology.
The fight to make up for decades of discriminatory care and research practices is seeing momentum.
“We literally know less about every aspect of female biology compared to male biology.” -Dr. Janine Austin Clayton of the United States National Institutes of Health
Whether it is understanding the biological manifestations/ramifications of menopause, being able to target adverse birth control side effects with precision medicine, or creating diagnostics for PCOS and endometriosis—we are currently fighting to make up for decades of discriminatory care and research practices.
The first step is destigmatizing female biology and the female experience from menstruation to menopause. Once we destigmatize and educate, we can start to reduce the burden suffered by those who menstruate (via lost schooling, lost wages, pink taxes, menstrual care deserts, and cash/economic power).