The term FemTech has often been controversial in healthcare.

Critics argue it is an infuriating buzzword that “others” women and pigeonholes half the human population as a niche sub-category.

But despite these criticisms, the healthcare sector is embracing the term and using it to create an identifiable community of women’s health innovation.

At the inaugural HLTH Europe 2024 meeting in Amsterdam, June 17-20, FemTech was firmly in the spotlight through a dedicated Women’s Health program, led by US management consulting firm Kearney.

Healthcare experts convened to explore the future of women’s health, and while indignance at the industry’s historic neglect of women was palpable, action plans were hashed out in a spirit of hope.

During a keynote panel discussion, Priya Agrawal, VP, Health Equity & Partnerships at pharmaceutical company MSD urged women to invest in the next generation of health technologies, such as breast cancer screening innovation.

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“Please don’t leave investing to the men,” Agrawal said. “We need women to be part of the solutions. If we look at breast cancer diagnostics – mammography is incredibly painful and uncomfortable. We desperately need new technologies that transform this process and make it better for women.”

Discussions buzzed around the McKinsey Health Institute & WEF report published earlier this year that revealed improving women’s health has the potential to boost the global economy by $1 trillion.

In FemTech, the opportunity is particularly large for diagnostic innovation, with studies showing that women are diagnosed later than men for more than 700 diseases.

“A woman is 7x more likely to be misdiagnosed in the middle of a heart attack, or for it to be dismissed altogether just because we do not understand female biology,” said Paula Bellostas Muguerza, Global Lead Healthcare & Life Sciences Professional Services, Kearney.

“In diabetes, studies show it can take women four and a half more years to be diagnosed than men and for cancer, the difference was two and a half years. These significant and systematic differences in diagnostics cost women’s lives.”

Education and prevention were highlighted as key factors to push women’s health forward.

“To make a real impact on patients – educate women and girls and educate healthcare systems,” said Dame Lesley Regan, Head of Obstetrics & Gynaecology at Imperial College London. “Many healthcare professionals need better education and to understand the characteristics that make an individual prone to a particular disease. Education, education, education!”

During a multi-disciplinary hackathon, delegates brainstormed outcomes for women in 5 key focus areas: cancer, brain health, immunology, investment, and reproductive health.

Femtech company Elvie took to the HLTH Europe Forum stage to announce the launch of its newest product Elvie Strong, a pelvic floor training app that helps women build strength for improved bladder control.

Elvie’s Director of Strategic Partnerships, Tatiana Escobar-Peake said the company wanted to raise awareness about pelvic floor issues during World Continence Week, June 17th – 23rd.

“More women than is imaginable have pelvic floor issues, but no one is talking about it,” she said. “And sadly, investment in this area is still low.”

“Venture capital firms are dominated by men who see this as a niche problem, but women across the world face this every day and need their experiences to be addressed. Technology can help but we are far behind. It is astonishing that we are looking at self-driving cars and colonising new planets before knowing more about how female anatomy works.”

In closing remarks, Escobar-Peake advocated a threefold approach to push women’s health globally: “Three things are needed. More investment in innovation, more clinical research/sex aggregated data and a joined effort from all stakeholders – policymakers, investors, industry to move innovation forward,” she concluded.