How health technologies are helping close the knowledge gap in women’s health
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Over 50% of women don’t understand their hormones. Here, Irina Karelina of fertility tracker Mira explores how health technology is making information more accessible.
If we asked you what a hormone actually does, would you know the answer? If you said no, you are not alone. While hormones work pretty simply – they regulate the body’s most important processes, like appetite, libido, and the sleep-wake cycle – many women are unaware of the important role hormones play in their lives.
In a new study by Mira fertility tracking kit surveyed 1,000 women in the United States and found that more than half of the respondents found their own hormones to be a mystery.
When asked, one-third of women had never heard of infertility, two-thirds didn’t know what PCOS (polycystic ovaries) is, and one-third had never heard of menopause early.
That said, more than half (64%) of women surveyed would like to better understand their hormones – that’s where health tech could come in.
Helathtech: your guide
Have you ever heard of health technologies? According to the World Health Organization, health technology – otherwise known as health technology – is “the application of knowledge and skills organized in the form of devices, drugs, vaccines, of procedures and systems developed to solve a health problem and improve the quality of life”. .
Healthtech aims to democratize access to information and tools that can improve personal and preventive health care. Femtech is a generation of health technology that focuses on women’s health in particular, and understand fertility solutions, period tracking apps, pregnancy and breastfeeding care, women’s sexual wellness and reproductive health care.
As home monitoring tools become more accessible, I believe they allow women to learn more about their own bodies.
“Thanks to technology, we now have the potential to turn the tide and meet women and menstruating people where they are,” says Claudia Pastides, medical advisor at the Women’s Health app. Flo. “At Flo, we are committed to providing women and menstruating men with expert information so that our users can better understand their bodies from the onset of their first period through menopause.”
Ultimately, when it comes to health care, knowledge is power. “Education is key to helping women get the care they deserve, but they often don’t have access to a qualified doctor who will listen to them,” says Shelley Bailey, CEO of familythe only all-in-one fertility company in telehealth.
She continues, “It’s so easy for women to feel underqualified without a fancy medical degree, but no one can advocate for a woman better than herself. Understand the difference between lab hormone ranges, symptoms, common treatments, and more. can help women determine whether or not they are really getting the quality of care they should. If they are not, they have the knowledge to make the decision to speak up or find it elsewhere.
Closing the Knowledge Gap in Women’s Health
However, it is not just the patients themselves who are uninformed about women’s health issues – there is a wider knowledge gap in the medical community. Throughout history, all women, and especially women from minority identity groups, have been excluded from health advances, both as innovators and as patients. Women were often prescribed drugs that were approved after being tested on men, but due to differences in body size, hormonal environment, and body composition, many safe and effective treatments for men had adverse effects on women.
“Women have historically been ignored by medical research, a problem that continued to exist until the late 20e century,” says Dr. Gary Nakhuda, MD, FAGOG, co-founder and co-director of Olive Fertility Center. “Partly because most men held leadership positions in academia and industry and were responsible for allocating resources, they focused on issues that were important to them, while issues specific women’s health products were simply not R&D priorities.”
Overall, as the results of the recent government survey of women’s health strategy showed, women are more likely to wait longer for a health diagnosis and are more likely to be rejected and being told that their symptoms are “all in their head”. Also, when in pain, women tend to wait longer in emergency departments and are less likely to receive effective painkillers than men.
“Women’s pain is too often normalized,” says Flo’s Pastides. “To give an example, 10-15% of women of childbearing age suffer from endometriosisbut it usually takes 7.5 years to get a final diagnosis, despite some of these people struggling with severe menstrual pain.”
It is important to note that patient education is only halfway to solving the problem. Dr. Gary Nakhuda explains, “Health technology, as it exists today, is already good at accumulating data and providing user feedback with built-in dashboards and KPI tracking. This can be useful at the individual level, but in order to fill the knowledge gap on women’s health or anything else, this data needs to be aggregated at a large scale for the most insightful analyzes that can be generalized to the population as a whole. .
The good news is that some femtech companies are already beginning to extrapolate broader insights from the data they collect.
“Anonymous data models can be extremely useful in researching health conditions that are not yet explored – such as PCOS and endometriosis – as well as shedding light on the real reasons behind the diagnosis of infertility” unexplained “,” says Sylvia Kang, CEO and co-founder of Mira. “This could potentially improve the quality of life for many people with these diagnoses.”
How? Well, at Mira, scientists studied the correlation between women’s health conditions such as PCOS and hormonal fluctuations during the cycle, thanks to 1,100 hormone charts they obtained (courtesy) of their users.
“What we found was that all of these graphs had similar patterns with ovulation later in the cycle, with elevated levels of luteinizing hormone (LH) and estrogen,” Kang explains. “This study and many others we’ve done at Mira help fill the data gap in women’s health research and will eventually lead to more accurate and timely diagnosis and more targeted treatments.”
Likewise, Flo has partnered with leading scientists to conduct research projects on women’s health. For example, in 2019 the company partnered with researchers at the University of Adelaide in Australia to conduct a large-scale study of cycle lengths and fertility windows.
“We looked at cycle data from over 1.5 million people from around the world and were surprised to find that only 16% of study participants had a cycle length of 28 days,” says Pastids. “The results of this study are of great importance as they expand our knowledge of the menstrual cycle, which can help provide better information and care for people trying to conceive.”
It looks like things are changing for the better – and this is just the beginning. “Given the machine learning and AI revolution that we are just beginning to experience, our understanding is about to be propelled far beyond the body of medical evidence that has taken so long to come together, and this acceleration of knowledge will lead to new treatments to improve health outcomes and overall quality of life,” says Dr Nakhuda.
It’s an exciting time, especially if health tech companies keep inclusivity in mind. “The key to continued progress is ensuring that health technologies are accessible to a diverse population, regardless of gender, race or any other socio-economic barrier.”