Fempreneur Gabrielle Guthrie recently mused on the differences between women’s and men’s health, wondering if digital health will bridge the gap. So will it?
Gabrielle Guthrie knows a thing or two about being a woman. First of all, she is one, and second, she’s the co- founder of the women-centered design start up, Moxxly, which is developing the world’s first smart breast pump. Last time I checked men can’t breastfeed so suffice it to say Guthrie has a corner on understanding her demographic.
Far beyond her concerns about breastfeeding, Guthrie worries about the overall treatment of women when it comes to their health. In a recent editorial entitled “Women’s Health is Too Often Overlooked; Will Digital Health be the Exception?” Guthrie ruminated that research on men’s and women’s health problems are all too often, and mistakenly, lumped together. She also said that women’s health concerns require a completely different approach and that insights gained from medical studies are far too often applied universally.
This lack of education and understanding of women’s health spreads across the health landscape from research studies to new digital health products. - Gabrielle Guthrie
Take heart attacks for example
Guthrie cites the classic example of heart attacks. In men, a left arm tingle can be a sign of a heart attack, whereas in women, the symptoms are completely different, such as fatigue, dizziness or nausea. A friend of mine woke up in the middle of the night vomiting profusely with a severe headache only to discover it was an angina attack upon reaching the hospital.
Many, many women died because the way we’re taught to recognize a heart attack is based on the symptoms men present. - Dr. Alicia Carrasco, an internist affiliated with University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) Medical Center
In terms of other diseases, such as lung cancer, Guthrie claimed that more non-smoking women are more likely than men to develop lung cancer, yet she says no one knows why. (Actually, doctors do know why yet society is generally unaware. See my blog on the subject).
After laying out her argument, Guthrie then asked whether digital health will become the great equalizer.
At first blush, she thinks not. At least, she says, if you look at one of the largest digital health innovations to hit the street of late – the Apple HealthKit. Guthrie, and others, are most offended that Apple did not include a menstruation tracker. Designed by men for women? Or designed by women who weren’t thinking about women?
A deliberate oversight?
Experts say these types of examples are a frequent oversight, as both the technology and health fields are dominated by men…In my opinion, we’re still in the stage of women’s digital health that is operating on stereotypes and assumptions. But digital health offers a new opportunity of understanding beyond the white, male patient... But in order to be successful, women’s digital health products have to be designed for and with women in mind. - Gabrielle Guthrie
Is there a societal bias against prioritizing women’s health? I believe so and obviously so does Guthrie. But I believe the future isn’t quite as grim as Guthrie may describe. With digital health fast becoming a leading multi-billion dollar sector of our economy, surely to goodness researchers have the ability to use disruptive technology to gather, segment and analyze data based on both sexes, and make recommendations.
What is done with the data and whether or not it reaches the marketplace in the form of digital health innovation, as an equitable offering to both men and women, remains to be seen. It should be the patient and consumer voice, however, that speaks up to ask for better, if necessary. As Dr. Phil says, "We teach people how to treat us."
The nuviun blog is intended to contribute to discussion and stimulate debate on important issues in global digital health. The views are solely those of the author.