In today’s digital age, many people’s first instinct is to immediately hop on Dr. Google when faced with a diagnosis or health situation they don’t fully understand. While this provides seemingly endless information, it can be hard for clinicians and other members of the care team to stay up to date on all the new tools and technology on the market, and what offers true clinical value. This is particularly true in women’s health, which has seen almost $1 billion in funding over the last three years and a surge in new tools and technology on the market.
Women who are struggling to get pregnant often want to try any available tools they can within the privacy of their own homes before going to a fertility specialist. While clinicians certainly don’t need to know about every device on the market, patients may want to discuss the technology they’re using. We’ve outlined five things that doctors and other care providers should know about femtech tools in preparation for these conversations with your patients.
Many Devices ARE Clinically Backed
As with any healthcare sector on the market, each device is subject to different regulatory requirements depending on how it is categorized and many have not conducted formal clinical trials. Even within fertility tech, each device varies greatly in its level of clinical support, and many aren’t regulated by the FDA.
That being said, this is shifting as the femtech market has experienced increased attention and approvals from regulatory bodies in recent years. For example, the European Union approved the first mobile app designed for contraception in 2017 and the FDA approved a colposcope that uses a smartphone for cervical cancer screenings in 2016. Within the fertility monitor market, OvuSense is the only fertility monitor with full regulatory clearance in the USA (510k), Europe (CE), Canada, and Australia.
Your Patients Want to Talk to You
Every day, we talk to women who are using this technology at home, but may be reluctant to talk to their doctors about their findings. This often leads to the patient and doctor being on different pages about next steps. In addition to those already using devices, some women could benefit from additional guidance on what device would work best for them. For example, if a woman has PCOS, many popular apps or devices won’t work to track her ovulation.
Rather than dismissing this technology, it can be helpful to ask your patients for any information about the device they’re using. Many companies will readily provide clinical support information that users can share with their clinical teams.
This Data Can Augment Patient Records
With more and more data available, it’s important to understand how information from apps can be used for more than just pregnancy. Similar to how you collect and record your patients’ vital signs at each appointment, self-reported data directly from your patients can help provide a more complete picture of their overall health.
Patient reported data is on the rise, and femtech apps and devices can serve as a valuable source of information that could augment the information you’re collecting in your office. For example, endometriosis takes 10 years on average to diagnose, according to the Endometriosis Foundation of America. But if a woman can track her period symptoms with an app, it may be able to tell her that her periods are abnormal and she should go to a doctor.
Collectively this information can provide a more complete picture of your patient, allowing you to provide better, more comprehensive evaluations and care. That could include cycle tracking information, patient notes that are added on a specific day of the cycle and then forgotten, or even specific data that supports a diagnosis.
It Can Advance Scientific Knowledge & Research
Beyond providing a more complete picture of an individual patient, many femtech developers are using anonymized user data to advance scientific research. With challenges of data collection, it can be much easier for companies to analyze the data their users are already putting out than it is for an institution to get a study approved, carried out, and published.
A recent example: the popular period-tracking app Clue opened its database of information to a host of researchers around the world. Researchers who have signed up to participate are planning to look at how seasons, exercise, and weather impact menstrual cycles, how a person’s gut function changes during the menstrual cycle, and how people feel about their experience with fertility trackers.
Many experts also argue that this data can be used to help correct the male bias in healthcare and develop new tools that better support women’s healthcare. This isn’t limited to fertility but can be expanded to any women’s health issues, including heart disease and general health.
The Number of FemTech Tools Available is Growing
Healthcare is still in the early stages of understanding how popular femtech tools can be used alongside office-based treatments and appointments. However, demand is only growing. According to a Frost & Sullivan report, women are already 75% more likely to use digital tools for healthcare than men are.
Thanks to smartphones and Dr. Google, so much is now available at our fingertips, with the touch of our phone – and women want their healthcare to be no different. Women, particularly those working through infertility, are looking to better inform themselves about their options and have more control over their health. As these devices continue to increase in popularity, now is the time to investigate these tools and better understand how they work before their adoption explodes.