Women’s Health & Future Technologies

Considering that women represent half the global population, it’s a wonder the United States lags so far behind in education, technology, and adequate medical care for the female half of our population. Health issues specific to women, as well as technological solutions for common health concerns, are developing rapidly. Let’s take a closer look at a few specific examples of recent developments in technology and awareness, in the healthcare sector.

Women’s Health Issues

Regis College of Nursing reports that heart disease causes one in every four deaths among women, and yet a mere 54 percent of women are aware that heart disease is the most statistically common cause of women’s deaths. Along with heart disease, there’s breast cancer, ovarian and cervical cancer, gynecological health, pregnancy issues, autoimmune diseases, osteoporosis, and depression. Of course, many of these diseases and conditions disproportionately affect women. Moreover, the amount of research, attention, and technology focused on women — rather than men — is disproportional to demonstrated need.

Although more attention is being paid to this problem on a societal and media level, it’s still being neglected on a political level. For example, PBS recently covered the latest funding fight over Planned Parenthood — which recently shifted federal funding to state control, rendering many women’s health services defunded in states like Iowa and Texas. Lack of access to contraception and family planning resources — as well as cancer screenings — is a concerted blow to women’s health nationwide. This gendered difference in the quality of care is also reflected in the faces of our political representatives — most of whom are male and over the age of fifty, leaving much to be desired in terms of legislators reflective of everyday women’s needs and interests.

Another example of gender bias in health care is the lack of adequate natal healthcare education for doctors and nurses in the field of obstetrics. According to NPR, approximately 700 to 900 women die in the U.S. each year from pregnancy and birth-related causes. By comparison, there were 27 childbirth-related deaths in Canada in 2015; the same year lists 74 maternal deaths in the UK. The risk increases for women living in rural areas of the United States, as well as for African-American mothers. One program experiencing positive results is Merck for Mothers, an initiative “focused on improving the health and well-being of mothers during pregnancy and childbirth.”

Forensic Medicine & Legislation

If this seems like an obscure type of medicine to bring up in a discussion of women’s health, you may be surprised to learn of the national shortage of forensic nurses coupled with a surplus of untested rape kits available for law enforcement officials and police departments, nationwide. According to EndtheBacklog.org, “The backlog of untested rape kits represents the failure of the criminal justice system to take sexual assault seriously, prioritize the testing of rape kits, protect survivors, and hold offenders accountable.” In addition, a mere 10 percent of U.S. hospitals have a forensic nurse examiner on staff, significantly hurting the quality of care for sexual assault victims.

Senator Patty Murray, a Washington representative, has been instrumental in trying to change this shortage of Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANEs), having requested a federal audit by the Government Accountability Office. Ironically, considering the abysmal climate for women’s health issues in Washington at the moment, Murray is hopeful about future prospects for her bill proposing increased federal funding for resources intended for sexual assault victims — including legislation for more SANE nurses and better education for college students and other high-risk groups.

Healthcare Apps & ‘Femtech’

Whether you realize it or not, “femtech” is quickly becoming a hot commodity The term refers to any technology that caters to a specifically female audience, and it includes pregnancy and nursing care, period-tracking apps, women’s sexual wellness, and reproductive health care. To answer the challenge and respond to market demand are a plethora of new apps, startups, and ideas: from Lemonaid, an app that provides low-cost access to virtual healthcare treatment, to other app companies like fertility-awareness startup Seed and Babyscripts, a pregnancy care startup now marketing to women with high-risk pregnancies. Who better to address many of these women’s health concerns than women themselves?

With this new tech-savvy market in mind, Technovation is challenging participants to build innovative apps addressing a community issue. One example of this program in action is “the United Utopians,” a team of young women recently immigrated to Canada from Syria. They’re currently working to address problems relevant to their Syrian community in Canada by building apps that give recommendations for hospitals or explain how to use local transportation. By both addressing public health issues and bridging the technology gender gap, these young women are using their foray into technology startup culture to help and change the society in which they live.

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What changes do you think would be helpful to women searching for practical, accessible solutions to their healthcare concerns? Do you have any ideas for legislation you would like to see passed or technology you’d like to see more thoroughly explored?

Image Source: Defense Health Agency

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