The need for more investment in women’s and family health has never been more urgent. The pandemic drove millions of women out of the workforce due to family and health obligations, a trend that disproportionately affects communities of color. The American Medical Association has called our nation’s current Black maternal health crisis “an American tragedy.” Transformative innovations in women’s and family health not only advance health equity, but can also improve individual family finances and contribute more broadly to economic productivity.
Yet, women’s health (an admittedly imperfect nomenclature which fails to encompass the full spectrum of diversity it services) has never held its rightful place as one of the biggest categories in digital health for venture capital. A few years ago, total investment in the space barely hit $100 million; in 2021, it surpassed $1 billion for the first time. While that influx of capital is notable, it is not nearly enough. Just 4% of all healthcare R&D and just 5% of digital health investment is focused on women’s health, and women are still under-represented in nearly all clinical trials.
The women’s health market is projected to hit $60 billion by 2027. As we wrap up a year of milestones for the sector, I caught up with some of the industry’s leading investors to get their predictions for where women’s and family health is headed going into 2022.
1) Fertility tech will transform assisted reproduction and put more focus on men’s bodies.
At least 1 in 8 couples struggle to conceive, and it costs approximately $60,000 to successfully conceive a child through in vitro fertilization (IVF). Worse, IVF is one of the few health technologies that has seen utilization and outcomes decline in the past 20 years. Technological breakthroughs pioneered by companies like Alife Health can improve the efficiency and efficacy of treatment through computer vision, diversified data sets, and vertical software solutions. And although this sounds obvious, it is still not widely understood that half of all fertility issues are tied to conditions in men’s bodies—an area that is just now starting to see more investment.
Leslie Schrock, author, entrepreneur, and angel investor, believes that the fertility conversation in 2022 will expand to include men, with investments going toward companies that focus on their bodies and education, addressing conditions such as DNA fragmentation in sperm that are a common cause of recurrent miscarriage: “As an investor and mom of two boys, I was heartened to see celebrities publicly invest in companies like Legacy, and hope that their involvement drives further awareness and conversation about this problem,” said Schrock, who is an advisor and/or investor in companies including Alife, Maven, Oath, Legacy, and Emme.
2) Solutions will expand to focus on under-served populations, especially families in rural communities and those covered by Medicaid.
Many digital health companies, including those focused on women’s health, were originally built to service private pay and more easily-accessible populations, but the events from the past two years have reinforced the need and opportunity for digital health solutions that effectively engage women in rural populations and underserved communities. Half the babies in America are born under Medicaid, and some of the leading companies in the category, including its first unicorn, Maven Clinic, are moving beyond the initial employer customer set to expand to these populations.
Alyssa Jaffee, Partner at 7wireVentures, believes digital health solutions should “focus on increasing access and affordability of testing and treatment services by eliminating health care’s geographic boundaries and extending expertise for treatment planning and overall care management into the home.”
3) Community-based consumer health is making a comeback.
Many solutions targeting women’s health have focused on employers, but that has held back some users from feeling comfortable connecting with others who are going through fertility struggles, pregnancy, and becoming new parents. Not everyone feels safe sharing their pregnancy journey with an employer, particularly in the early stages.
Chrissy Farr, health tech investor at OMERS Ventures, predicts there is a big opportunity for applications that can build community by focusing on consumers, and that providers will also need to be a part of the mix.
“I’ve seen companies pop up in the seed stages to do just that, and it’s critically important that these businesses ensure that women are accessing high-quality, evidence-based information,” she said. “What I’m confident about is that Facebook Groups are not the future for connecting parents at this overwhelming time, particularly given the rise in misinformation. We need to bring the mom group into the 21st-century and connect women to the support networks they need.”
4) Precision medicine is imperative to scaling care delivery amidst rising demand.
The first wave of innovation and investment in women’s and family health has focused largely on expansion of access. The next wave needs to focus on providing truly personalized care and quality outcomes by building more inclusive communities at the patient and provider level, and also through thoughtful applications of technology. To do so, companies need to ensure that AI avoids bias and incorporates more inclusive datasets and serves practitioners from diverse backgrounds and with expertise across different modalities and specialties.
Digital health innovation is also critical to addressing a growing crisis: demand for healthcare services in the United States is only increasing. What is often less discussed is the not-so-slow march, the plummeting number of providers across primary and specialty care–including OB/GYNs and embryologists—that is inevitable in the next ten years. We need to utilize technology and tech-enabled services to augment the efficiency and efficacy of providers so that we can continue to meet patient needs without sacrificing quality outcomes; platform solutions such as SteadyMD offer a tech-optimized solution to power the current and impending digital health demand for quality care.
Aike Ho, principal at ACME Capital, is optimistic about the potential of technology to unlock capacity and address underlying structural issues.
“I’m excited to continue to see and invest in digital health companies that are not only delivering sought-after services but also building real technology that scales beyond human constraints,” she said. “That’s the difference between healthcare companies that enable technology versus technology companies that enable healthcare.”
As we approach the end of a watershed year for women’s health, these investors share a common sentiment: we’re just getting started. Cheers to a happy and healthier 2022 for women, families, and communities everywhere.
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