Digital healthcare and women’s health

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Achitha Jacob, CEO and Founder, Proactive For Her highlights the role of technology in managing women’s health

Healthcare has a new avatar, digital healthcare has been a boon to us during the pandemic and beyond. The rise of technology has given birth to FemTechs that focus on menstruator healthcare and increase accessibility to quality experts.

Femtech startups initially started out by focusing on issues such as pregnancy, periods and menopause- but with growing customer demand, the sector has now grown to include products and services tackling particular concerns of women of all ages. The femtech market is expected to grow globally at a CAGR of over 13% during the forecast period 2020-2026.  It is estimated that globally 80% of women spend on health products and also make 90% of household decisions on health issues.

Barriers to women’s healthcare

The gendered nature of access to healthcare in India is undeniable. We discovered that women tend to postpone doctor visits unless necessary. Women frequently put their health on the back burner in order to save money. Women’s menstrual, sexual, and reproductive health issues have long been stigmatised, and many women have been prevented from seeking nonjudgmental support. When it comes to women’s healthcare, there is a pressing need for a full-stack and holistic approach.

What can digital healthcare do?

Through solution-specific digital health clinics, health coaching by handpicked experts, curated diagnostic panels, and long-term support programmes in a variety of areas of concern, digital healthcare can bridge this gap in women’s health.

Common digital healthcare covers menstrual hygiene, gynaecology, maternal health, sexual health, mental health and dermatology.

Digital healthcare can help women prioritise their health without the need to worry about missing time from work or household duties. It can make healthcare accessible at the comfort and safety of their home. Additionally, digital healthcare can also be used as a vehicle to promote sex education and sexual health awareness. It can help women get unbiased diagnosis and treatment without having to settle for the nearest expert.

In addition to all this, digital healthcare can provide long-term solutions and treatments which include therapy sessions, address cultural barriers around access to sexual healthcare and enable women to understand their body with the help of articles, videos and other patient education endeavours

Which areas of women’s health will find it beneficial?

In our country, STI testing is not very common. Many sexually active women in India may not be tested due to a lack of awareness about safer sexual practices and, more importantly, the importance of regular STI screening. They are also unaware that all STIs are treatable, and there is additional fear and stigma associated with a positive result.

Undiagnosed and untreated STIs can have serious consequences. Untreated chlamydia and gonorrhoea are significant contributors to female infertility. These are two infections that, if caught early enough, can be treated with a single dose of antibiotics. Digital healthcare platforms such as Proactive For Her, offer a free one-on-one consultation with an STI specialist pathologist who helps the patient understand their risk and curates a panel for them based on their sexual behaviours and symptoms. Report reading, analysis, and free doctor consultations are also provided for people who have tested positive for STIs. This may encourage women to take note of their sexual health and care for themselves.

Can digital healthcare pave the way for a better society?

In short, yes! We are not only addressing a clinical issue with digital healthcare, but we are also addressing a cultural issue. It is impossible to discuss sexual health, particularly in the context of women, without addressing issues of accessibility, consent, shame, stigma, violence, and discrimination. Because women may hide or downplay their symptoms for fear of being judged, healthcare providers must actively encourage self-reflection and candid communication. Furthermore, women’s health issues frequently necessitate multiple interactions with professionals from various specialisations. Some of our patients are women who have lived with chronic illnesses for a long time.

Vaginismus is one such condition, which is defined as the inability to allow vaginal penetration of a penis, finger, tampon, or menstrual cup due to a severe involuntary spasm of the vaginal muscles, despite the person’s strong desire to do so. This is a taboo subject, and women are subjected to painful sexual encounters, as well as feelings of inadequacy and self-blame. We cannot blame women for their ignorance, and we must address it collectively by developing care systems.

Future is bright

From tools to track period flow to predicting ovulation, digital health care can make life better for women in all senses. While in the nascent stage, women’s digital health platforms are trying to cover the menstrual, maternal, sexual and mental health of women, various other areas are still to be explored.

To have an impact on digital women’s health, the system as a whole must work together to reverse the situation through:

  • Continued R&D endeavours to identify needs through consumer research and developing accessible and affordable solutions
  • Develop dynamic targeted solutions based on insights using data and analytics, enabling better prediction and preventive care
  • Increasing awareness and prioritizing women’s health through content, community channels and education early on
  • Establishing women’s health policies in public and private sector and driving adherence and adoption
  • Fostering an enabling and supportive environment for the founders of women’s digital healthcare organisations

Given time, digital healthcare can help women reclaim their health and focus on themselves as much as they focus on their loved ones. Digital healthcare can make women assume control and be proactive about their health and life.

technologywomen's health
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