Why Women’s Healthcare Technology Is Everyone’s Business

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Ainsley MacLean, MD, is Chief Medical Information Officer (CMIO) at the Mid-Atlantic Permanente Medical Group, Kaiser Permanente.

Examine existing medical literature, and one thing is clear: There’s still a lot to learn about women’s bodies and how diseases present in nearly half the world’s population.

This lack of knowledge stems from how medicine has approached research over the years. As the authors of one literature review explained, “Historically, medical studies have excluded female participants and research data have been collected from males and generalized to females.” This bias isn’t limited to human research subjects—most of the lab rats researchers study are male. Then there’s the historic lack of representation of women in healthcare positions. Today, technology is helping us make rapid advancements in healthcare, but there’s still a low number of women in leadership roles at technology companies. Fewer women in healthcare and technology leadership positions make it less likely for women’s healthcare causes to get championed.

Women’s healthcare is everyone’s business, as is women’s healthcare technology. We must prioritize gaining a better understanding of women’s healthcare issues and leveraging technology to address those issues.

Why Women’s Healthcare Needs Our Attention

Morally, of course, we have an obligation to address the healthcare challenges of women. Women deserve to live healthy, happy lives.

We must also recognize the primary role women play in healthcare decisions for their families. According to a 2019 report by management consulting firm Oliver Wyman, “Healthcare is an industry where women consumers make 80 percent of buying and usage decisions.” When women’s healthcare issues aren’t properly researched and addressed, there’s a domino effect. In order to keep their families healthy, women first need to stay healthy themselves.

Additionally, when women’s health suffers, their ability to work suffers. Per 2023 research by Parsley Health, a practice focused on holistic medicine, “47% of women say their health issues have affected their work productivity in the past 60 days,” and “43% of women missed a day or more of work in the last 60 days due to health.” Improving women’s healthcare can lead to massive economic benefits. As the McKinsey Health Institute explained, focusing on the “25 percent more time that women spend in ‘poor health’ relative to men not only would improve the health and lives of millions of women but also could boost the global economy by at least $1 trillion annually by 2040.” And that estimate, the organization noted, “is probably conservative, given the historical underreporting and data gaps on women’s health conditions, which undercounts the prevalence and undervalues the health burden of many conditions for women.” When women are healthy, they can make greater contributions to the business world—contributions that can benefit us all.

Women’s Health Needs More Investment And Innovation

When it comes to research dollars, the data points to a drastic level of underfunding. Research published in 2020 by Arthur Mirin, an applied mathematician, revealed that “in nearly three-quarters of the cases where a disease afflicts primarily one gender, the funding pattern favors males, in that either the disease affects more women and is underfunded (with respect to burden), or the disease affects more men and is overfunded.” Mirin also found that “the disparity between actual funding and that which is commensurate with burden is nearly twice as large for diseases that favor males versus those that favor females.”

As for the startup world, there’s been some progress as far as investments in companies focused on women’s health. But we still have a long way to go. According to PitchBook, femtech startups (which the organization’s analysts describe as “only those whose products and services address a medical need”) saw a “dip in deal count and total deal value in 2022 and 2023.” However, these years “still top capital raised in any year prior to 2021.”

Moving forward, we need more research dollars poured into women’s health. We also need to see an increase in deal counts, deal value and the amount of raised capital for companies focused on women’s health. Investment and innovation shouldn’t mainly focus on reproductive health and menopause, either. Reproductive health and menopause are important to address, but we also need to make headway in understanding the diseases that disproportionately affect women—and in understanding how diseases present differently in women than in men.

Why Getting More Women In Leadership Positions Is More Important Than Ever

Additionally, we need more women in leadership positions in the technology world (at venture capital firms and startups), as well as in the healthcare system. I am fortunate to be part of a physician group with diverse female leaders throughout the organization who collaboratively champion innovative care for women across 60 medical specialties. I also serve on the investment committee for our company’s ventures, which is a women-led fund. A diversity of perspectives strengthens innovation. When more women have a seat at the table, they can provide their insights and experiences to steer innovation that can advance women’s health. Generative AI in particular has shown us that the people who develop and invest in technology have influence over the problems we’re solving.

But on the leadership front, there’s a lot of progress to be made. Consider research published in 2021 by JAMA Network Open, which found that “women held only approximately 15% of the CEO positions in health care organizations.” As far as women in leadership in technology, there’s much room for improvement, as well. A 2022 report by First Republic Bank (which was acquired by JPMorgan Chase in 2023) noted that the “surveyed women are more highly represented at the lower-level positions, representing the greatest share at director/principal (42%) and the least at the general partner (GP) level (18%), but relative to larger AUM firms, women managing partners and directors/principals at smaller AUM firms (<$100 million) have a noticeably stronger representation.” Sifted, which covers the European startup space, revealed a startling reality in femtech startups. In an October 2023 article, Sifted explained that per data from PitchBook, “more than 70% of femtech companies are founded by women,” but there’s a catch—“male femtech founders raised more money than their female counterparts in each of the last five years.” Getting women into more leadership roles is important, but it’s only half of the battle.

It’s by attracting and retaining more women in technology and healthcare leadership roles where they can start companies, research and invest in women’s health—as well as attracting and retaining everyone else supporting these efforts—that we can better address women’s health issues and find the answers that will help women and all of their communities flourish.


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