Time to acknowledge the holistic healthcare needs of women workers 

March 03, 2022

Women historically have used more healthcare than men. Given they are more likely to serve as primary caregivers (for both children and other relatives), they also are more likely to manage the healthcare of others. It’s been estimated that women control 80% of healthcare decisions in the US and spend 29% more per capita on healthcare. And yet women’s health has long been seen as a niche market, with a narrow focus on specific conditions rather than on the full range of women’s healthcare needs. For example, just one percent of R&D investment in biopharma and medtech (firms engaged in drug discovery and development of medical devices) are directed to female-specific conditions beyond oncology.  

But there are positive signs of change. Venture capitalist funding for digital health companies targeting women’s-specific care has been growing, and budding digital health startups are tackling new areas of opportunity in women’s health.  For women juggling multiple priorities in the workplace and at home, the convenience of digital health solutions can meet a critical need. Employers have focused first on solutions supporting the family-building journey – from fertility and conception to postpartum and parenting resources. Many have seen that these solutions not only help to attract and retain female employees, but can also bolster diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives.

Addressing women’s health needs beyond reproduction

While most activity in women’s-focused digital health is centered on pregnancy, postpartum, and parenthood, it’s important to remember that less than 45% of the US female population (and a still smaller portion of the female labor force) is of reproductive age, and the US birth rate is at its lowest record to date. Employers have an opportunity to take a more holistic view of women’s health and offer support outside of reproductive health and family building targeted to women.

Consider health conditions that affect women disproportionately, like osteoporosis, and those that affect men and women differently. For example, women have unique presentations for certain serious conditions like stroke and diabetes and can experience vastly different symptoms of a heart attack due to underlying biological and risk factors. In some cases, companies have already started to take action to address these broader care needs, but gaps remain as innovators in this space need to continue integrating these learnings into impactful solutions. As we await developments catered to women dealing with osteoporosis or other chronic conditions, health clinics like Tia, with a collaborative and multidisciplinary care team designed specifically to treat women holistically, may be able to help.

Recognizing menstruation impacts and destigmatizing menopause

As researchers, providers, and investors continue to innovate in this space, employers also have an opportunity to contribute to a new era of women’s health. Once you have acknowledged the effect of gender-specific health factors and conditions, you can explore alternative benefit solutions to better support the women of your workforce. Menstruation can cause varied impacts on a woman’s mental health, energy levels, and nutrient intake. There are plenty of apps out there to help women track their menstruation cycles (e.g. Clue, Flo), but companies like Visana Health are going further to create programs that assist women in managing and reducing chronic pain associated with menstruation, and include pelvic floor physical therapy and behavioral therapy solutions. Menopause historically has been heavily stigmatized, despite its inevitability and prevalence, and there have been surprisingly few resources offered to support working women in managing what can be debilitating symptoms. A variety of menopause-related solutions exist today, from wearables like Embr’s Wave Bracelet to at-home hormone testing from Gennev or Elektra Health. Explore the many digital health solutions expanding into the white space of women’s health care and collaborate with your carrier and vendor partners on ways to enhance your health benefits with a lens on your female population.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused widespread suffering and stress, and women have borne the brunt of the additional caregiving burdens it imposed. With the worst of the crisis behind us (we hope), women’s health and wellbeing needs should now get the attention they deserve. International Women’s Day is a good reminder to pause and imagine what a diverse, equitable, and inclusive world looks like – and consider ways your organization can provide benefits solutions that are designed to support the health and well-being of the women in your workforce.

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