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With 50% of the global population as target customers and a market potential of $50 billion by 2025, Femtech is hailed as the next big phenomenon in the women’s health market and the time has come for clinical diagnostics, bio-pharmaceuticals, and medical device companies to tap into this market opportunity. Femtech (female technology) refers to software, diagnostics, products, and services that use technology to improve women’s health. Femtech involves the use of digital health to motivate patients to access and use applications for managing women’s health issues.

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Women’s health is often side-lined as a niche market; however, tides are changing and this can be attributed to the rise of the ‘she-conomy’, where women are not only playing an increasingly influential role across the healthcare continuum, but also have higher purchasing power. For instance, the economic contribution of women is expected to outpace the combined GDP of China and the United States by 2020. Furthermore, top global campaigns that are focusing on women’s issues (such as body positivity or menstruation realness) echo a pertinent need to put health and wellness at the forefront.

Women are increasingly playing an active role in their care delivery and are also primary caregivers¬—especially for the elderly and children. Healthcare professionals and providers also recognize the need to enhance positive outcomes for women patients through constant engagement and follow ups; especially as women are key influencers in healthcare decision making and play an important role in compliance and adherence.

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Digital Age—Time To Rethink the Positioning of Women’s Health Products and Services

The past few years have seen the rise of Femtech, mainly due to higher funding and also because of a conducive regulatory environment that has seen the approval of new-age digital applications for Femtech. Personalized wellness and consumer healthcare technology has been a top-5 investment area in digital health for several years now, and Femtech has brought in overall funding of approximately $1 billion since 2014. Since 2016, regulatory agencies have also approved digital applications for conventional women’s health issues and this has paved the way for Femtech applications in the mainstream market. For instance, the first ever mobile application for contraception from Natural Cycles received CE approval as a Class-Two medical device to be marketed in Europe in 2017, and the FDA approved Ava, a fertility tracking wearable as a Class-One medical device in 2016.

The main areas of concern for women are centered on access to affordable healthcare, maternal and child care, family planning and fertility, mental health, management of chronic diseases and elderly care. Most Femtech applications therefore revolve around key women’s health issues, such as reproductive and maternal health, general health, and wellness, which includes mental health, chronic diseases, and communicable diseases.

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The Femtech market currently has an interesting mix of market participants including specialized Femtech companies that are offering interactive digital health applications for women’s health.

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The market also consists of established clinical diagnostics, bio-pharmaceuticals and medical device companies, which have a portfolio of products and services for women’s health and are at the cusp of recognizing the potential for Femtech through innovative and specialized products. For instance, TDK, a Japanese consumer electronics company, has a digital clinical thermometer that is positioned alongside a Basal Body Temperature) BBT app that can be used to track fertility.

Femtech—an Effective Channel for Engagement

There is significant growth potential in the healthcare industry when it comes to digital channels of engagement. Patients are increasingly researching the Internet before they seek medical care from healthcare professionals. There is also greater collaboration between the patient and the physician; patients are increasingly taking greater responsibility for their health and are involved in the decision-making process, and therefore are able to influence the type of treatment, hospital, and medication provided.

As the healthcare landscape continues to evolve and often presents many challenges, traditional marketing platforms are being negatively impacted as field force numbers are decreasing and physicians are becoming digitally savvy, often relying on third-party information to support their decision-making process. As a direct consequence, companies that employ multi-channel marketing are able to target a wider range of customers and offer more personalized communication directly to the consumer, through targeted campaigns and effective messaging as part of a marketing-driven sales model. This presents both a challenge and an opportunity for healthcare companies as an increase in direct-to-consumer marketing requires continuous engagement with patients and healthcare professionals; especially in the case of women users because 75–85% of women are more likely to use digital tools for their healthcare needs compared to men.

Healthcare companies can take their cue from consumer and personal care companies that are taking advantage of digital channels of engagement especially for women consumers. For instance, Neutrogena, a consumer care division of Johnson and Johnson, has partnered with FitSkin to launch a hardware product called SkinScanner that can be attached to a smartphone and, by using a combo of sensors perform a facial analysis of the user. The device works with Skin360 application to find products that are suited to the customers’ needs and also provides an option to connect with dermatologists for expert advice. Other leading companies in the space include the skin product company, Olay, with its Skin Advisor application that uses artificial intelligence and deep learning to analyze the user’s skincare needs and suggest products; and L’Oreal with its UV Sense, a combination of wearable technology and mobile application that measures exposure to UV radiation and suggests remedial measures.

In the Femtech market, to engage users, there is a need to work on the segmentation, targeting, and positioning (STP) of applications by better understanding the preferences and needs of women patients, users, and healthcare professionals, thereby targeting end users with the right applications. In addition, it is important to assess the women’s health landscape to identify critical pain points, to differentiate products and services in this category and gain a market footprint.

Furthermore, it is essential to adapt the marketing strategy for Femtech applications based on factors, such as developed versus developing markets, and also urban versus rural sectors. For such emerging areas of opportunity, it becomes important to identify partnership opportunities for scalable business models that enable a greater reach to potential target customers. For instance, GE Healthcare’s Vscan™ with Dual Probe, a pocket-sized portable ultrasound machine, has enabled several women patients in developing countries in Africa and India to better manage their pregnancies. GE entered into a partnership with UE Lifesciences, which has a low-cost, battery powered, handheld medical device to screen for breast health. This partnership enables the provision of accessible healthcare to women at affordable rates in ASEAN, Africa, and South Asia.

The Challenge—Breaking into a Specialized Opportunity Area

Whilst the benefits of Femtech are increasingly being recognized, the market is still at a very nascent stage of growth. This can be attributed to a lack of visibility and communication about Femtech applications to women users and also healthcare professionals who are key influencers. Furthermore, cultural and social barriers sometimes come in the way of women’s health issues and are not being considered a priority; some issues are even perceived as taboo subjects with women reluctant to address them. As a result, there is an unmet need to understand the right set of Femtech applications for key women’s health issues that can support patients and healthcare professionals across the care continuum and maximize cross-channel interaction. In addition, it is also important to obtain insights into the drivers and motivating factors that increase usage, enhance patient perception, and encourage better engagement. Going forward, the companies in the Femtech space will have to evaluate the best practices that will support the design of solutions and successful engagement strategies for market growth.

Conclusion—Femtech Should Be Part of a Long Term Strategy and Not a Short Term Solution

The potential of Femtech is endless, however, the key barrier is that it is labelled as a niche market, and hence often overlooked as just another product or service in the women’s health portfolio. Rather, Femtech has the power to disrupt the women’s health market, especially in areas such as fertility, pregnancy and nursing care, mental health, chronic care, prevention, and screening. It will also play a key role in making care more accessible and affordable to women across the globe with its ease of scalability, which will enable it to expand the user base without compromising on performance. With the rise of digital convergence, the overlap between women’s health and digital health is increasing by the day and it is imperative for companies to cater to unmet needs in the industry, to capitalize on this strategic sweet spot.

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