Women’s History Month Spotlight on Women’s Health Technology: Progress Made, Progress Ahead
- Advancements in wearable technology and digital health platforms have improved women’s access to healthcare by enabling remote monitoring options for women and providers.
- Cervical cancer screening technology, particularly HPV testing, has made significant progress in reducing the rates of cervical cancer. However, there is still a long way to go to improve access to this life-saving screening.
- Continued innovation is critical to changing the way women experience, monitor, and manage their health, and addressing these challenges will be key to making women’s health technology more accessible and equitable for all.
As a physician with a passion for women’s health, I am delighted to highlight the progress that has been made in women’s health technology over the past few decades. These advancements are beginning to change the way women monitor and manage their health, providing them with greater control and access to care and information. As we celebrate Women’s History Month, it is a time to reflect on how far we have come, and the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead.
One of the most exciting developments in women’s health technology is the emergence of nifty devices that allow women to monitor their reproductive health, fertility, and overall wellness. Wearable technology, such as watches and rings, are now capable of tracking menstrual cycles, predicting ovulation to help women determine their most fertile days and improve their chances of conceiving – or to avoid becoming pregnant. Additionally, digital health platforms have expanded rapidly during the COVID-19 pandemic, providing remote monitoring options that help women connect to healthcare providers and monitor their conditions, particularly in areas with limited access to healthcare providers.
I have personally witnessed the utility of digital health platforms when I was in rural Zimbabwe, where the nurses were able to send difficult case photos to an expert on call in the capital, receiving real-time feedback to help manage the patient in front of them. Evidence shows that the digital transformation with health platforms has been successful across various areas such as the management of sexually transmitted infections, online contraceptive services, preconception care, mental health counseling, review of lab work, and initial screening or intake for an in-person visit or procedure.
Continued Opportunities for Advancements
However, the most innovative technologies of women’s health are not necessarily new gadgets or fancy mobile applications. In fact, some of the highest-impact innovations in history seem somewhat mundane. For example, cervical cancer screening via the Pap smear has been one of the most significant areas of progress in women’s health prevention in history, resulting in remarkable decreases in cervical cancer rates. Before the Pap smear, cervical cancer was the #1 killer of women in the US. Despite this progress, millions of women worldwide continue to develop cervical precancers and cancers, which is why we need to continue to develop cervical cancer screening technology to access women at risk.
As a medical student in rural Guatemala, I saw this first-hand. A mother with her toddler came to the clinic for evaluation of pelvic pain. When the doctor performed a pelvic exam, he discovered advanced cervical cancer. Upon my return to my hometown in rural New Mexico that same summer, I learned that my friend from high school had also been diagnosed with cervical cancer. I was perplexed how screening could have missed these women, but soon realized that this is a reality in many settings – even within the United States.
One of the most notable advancements for cervical cancer screening is the development of HPV testing, which is more sensitive than the Pap test in screening for cancer. In many parts of the world, women can now perform a self-administered HPV test at home to screen for the virus that causes the disease, but this option is not yet approved in the US. At Teal, we think that self-administered HPV tests could be a game changer – they are inexpensive, easy to use, and do not require a doctor’s visit.
More Progress Ahead
Although we have made significant strides in women’s health technology, we still have a long way to go. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the inequities in access to healthcare, particularly for women and marginalized communities. Moreover, many diseases that predominantly affect women are understudied, and there is a need for increased funding and resources to address these gaps in research and develop new treatments and technologies.
So, this Women’s History Month we can be excited about the progress made in women’s health technology, but there are many opportunities to improve quality and access of care further. Continued innovation – by women, for women – is critical to change the way women experience, monitor, and manage their health. By continuing to invest in research and development and addressing these challenges, we can make women’s health technology more accessible and equitable for all.