Overcoming barriers in women’s health: what is required?

28 Jun 2023 4min read

Some of the most pressing challenges in women’s health are characterised by extensive delays to diagnosis, guidance and treatment, all of which are having dire effects. These multifaceted barriers to care can be approached from a number of different angles. Policy-makers, innovators, academics and clinicians all need to be involved in exploring the solutions and interventions required to create tangible improvements in women’s health, well-being and experiences in the healthcare system. This effort was exactly the focus of the recent Women’s Health Innovation Summit, where three key requirements for tackling these challenges were discussed: reforms to clinical pathways, enhanced education, open dialogue and collaboration in FemTech innovation and research.

1. Reforms to clinical pathways in women's health

Siloing different components of women’s health is creating concrete barriers to care. Currently, the decision trees that make up diagnostic procedures and treatment pathways are spread out across various compartments of primary and secondary care. Healthcare professionals are sometimes prevented from administering simple but essential procedures and women are left scheduling several appointments at several different places to get the care they need. They may be referred to specialists for advice that could have been provided much more quickly. This is more than inconvenient and obstructive, it is also often unaffordable, widening health disparities seen in delays to care. As discussed at the Summit, the Women’s Health Strategy for England’s initiative to expand Women’s Health Hubs is a concrete solution that will help resolve this fragmentation and reform the system such that improvements in access to care and health outcomes can be measured.


2. Education and dialogue, using the right language around women's health

As a cognitive neuroscientist, I have been especially intrigued by conversations in the industry about how our use of language can be so impactful in advancing (or hindering) women’s health. The normalisation of pain, discomfort and side effects associated with women’s health treatment procedures, while simultaneously attaching stigma to basic conversations around women’s experiences, represent a harrowing combination that has historically slowed innovation and progress. This is all part of our everyday conversations, contributing to ‘defaults’ that we have built up and come to accept around women’s healthcare experiences. These are now being challenged by policymakers, educators and innovators, and as a result we are seeing an increase in open dialogue and changes in the language being used.

These changes are fostering real progress. There can be better diagnostic tools and better treatment experiences. Women don’t have to settle for what has historically been seen to be ‘good enough’. Educating people openly about what women experience, the history that has contributed to the state of women’s healthcare and the opportunities to change things is essential to making these changes happen. Every open dialogue creates a ripple effect that will change women’s everyday experiences, the HealthTech industry, and the investment landscape.


3. Collaboration in FemTech innovation and research

It’s wonderful to see everybody working towards better collaboration between the public and private sector, as well as between industry and academia, to close the women’s health data gap and facilitate change. Innovators should learn from clinicians and policy experts about the underlying biases and bureaucratic barriers in women’s health. Innovators should also integrate these learnings thoughtfully into their product development strategies to really make a difference to public health systems and individual experiences. For example, understanding the extent of diagnostic delays in conditions like endometriosis and ovarian cancer fuelled innovations in novel diagnostic markers and devices that can help people get the care they need sooner and with less invasive procedures.

Our FemTech group at Team has been reflecting on these requirements in our efforts to understand what’s contributing to health disparities and what we can do to make a difference. We are always keen to meet with people innovating in women’s health and to learn from other thought leaders fighting for change. Events such as the Women’s Health Innovation Summit offer such a valuable opportunity to reflect on the complexities behind the barriers we are grappling with and the routes to breaking them down.

It can be frustrating and overwhelming at times to be faced with the distressing stories and statistics, but I’m excited to see progress in women’s health. Moving forwards, it will be important for us all to play our part, by translating what we learn about the challenges in the care pathway into innovation.

Join the conversation

Looking for industry insights? Click below to get our opinions and thoughts into the world of
medical devices and healthcare.