Welcome to this month’s installment of our Normalize This Series. This month we’re exploring women-centered health, and the growing category of FemTech. The unfair truth is that women are an underrepresented audience when it comes to healthcare. In fact, only 4% of healthcare R&D goes towards women’s health, which is why we’re understandably left with such a massive gap when it comes to our health and care. There is an enormous need for increased attention to women’s health, and FemTech aims to provide a better framework.
Here to talk with us about all of this, and the growing options for women to take charge of their health and wellness is Ann Garnier, CEO and Founder of LisaHealth.
Q: What is FemTech, and what motivates the FemTech movement?
A: FemTech refers to software, diagnostics, products and services that use technology to support women’s health and wellbeing. The phrase was coined by Ida Tin, the founder and CEO of Clue, one of the first period tracking apps and a pioneer in the space. She needed a way to simply convey to investors what this new female-focused category was, and she came up with FemTech and it just stuck.
From my perspective, women are driving the FemTech movement. It’s a category women can identify with. For far too long, we’ve gone without solutions to our problems or settled for solutions that don’t work well. So, we don’t lack for problems to solve when it comes to women’s health and wellbeing. FemTech has become a tremendous enabler, inspiring women of all ages to start and join FemTech companies. Now, when women experience a problem they raise their hand and decide they are going to be the ones to fix it. It’s thrilling to be part of this movement.
Q: What is Lisa Health and what motivated you to start this company? (And, we’re curious, what is the story behind the name Lisa Health?)
A: Lisa Health is the first smart digital health platform for menopause management and healthy aging. We use advanced technology to deliver personalized insights and precision therapeutics starting with the menopause transition. Our mission is to empower every woman to thrive on her journey through midlife.
Like all startups, we went through a lot of names. Most just didn’t have the right ring or vibe. There were a few we liked a lot, but they didn’t meet all the criteria: easy to spell, pronounce, and remember, and the URL was available for less than a small fortune. Lisa was the most popular baby girl name for eight years running, and in the top 10 for 18 consecutive years (1959-1976). Every midlife woman has a Lisa or two or three in her life. When we put Lisa Health on the board, well, it just felt right. The brand is instantly relatable and personal. It captures the spirit of community, support, and sisterhood. Lisa is your companion and trusted guide through midlife.
Q: Using your community as a proxy for clinical research, what insights have you gleaned from how women are experiencing their menopause journeys?
A: It’s clear to us that the vast majority of women are blindsided by the menopause transition. This isn’t much of a surprise considering that fewer than 20% of physicians are trained in menopausal care. The “talk” about menopause simply does not exist. Young women get “the talk” before their first period, first sexual encounter, and first pregnancy. Yet, it’s crickets when it comes to menopause. Very few doctors bring it up with women. I can’t tell you how many women report that their doctor never asked a single thing about menopause symptoms or mentioned menopause in any way. Also, there is still a stigma attached to menopause and women among themselves don’t talk about it much. That’s starting to change, but it’s still not the norm. No woman should be blindsided by a natural life event that every single woman will go through. We need to update the annual well woman visit to include education about menopause. This education should start, at a minimum, in your 30’s. It’s also beneficial for mothers and daughters to talk about menopause as there is some evidence that your menopause experience may be similar in terms of timing and symptom severity as your mother’s. It’s not a guarantee, but at a minimum, the mother-daughter talk starts an important dialogue. One that can deepen a bond, create a shared experience, and lead to further discovery and awareness of what’s to come for this pivotal, complex life event.
Q: Have you uncovered cultural differences in the way women experience menopause?
A: Absolutely. There is actually good research available about the physical and cultural differences women of different ethnic backgrounds experience. We’ve written articles about it. There is also an excellent book that came out a couple of years ago on this very topic - Slow Moon Climbs by historian Susan Mattern - that I always recommend. It is extremely well-researched and a fascinating read.
Q: Menopause is really gaining commercial and cultural momentum at the moment. What are your feelings about how it’s manifesting and thoughts on its trajectory?
A: I couldn’t be more thrilled. When I started Lisa Health there were just a few of us pioneers. By having more companies in the space, it validates the market need, which is a win for all of us. It also helps all of us gain momentum and achieve our shared vision for a better menopause experience for women worldwide.
Q: Who or what inspires you in the women’s health space - what’s on your radar?
A: I like to recognize the North American Menopause Society and the people who have been conducting research on menopause for decades. There are too many to list. It’s mostly women but there are some men too. They are the unsung heroes in this “menopause is having a moment” story. These researchers and clinicians have shown incredible passion and dedication. For years they’ve faced multiple challenges, not the least of which is being significantly underfunded, especially when compared with funding for health concerns that affect men. Despite this, they have been persistent torchbearers for a better understanding of the complexities of this life stage, risks to women’s long term health, and evidence-based strategies that can help women.
Q: How does FemTech integrate with women’s more traditional avenues of healthcare and it's providers?
A: Right before the pandemic, I participated in a think tank strategy initiative to redefine primary care for women of all ages. The major finding from the group’s work is that menopause is the biggest gap in the women’s health continuum from an education and care standpoint. We identified, and it’s consistent with my own point of view, these pillars of change: (1) that menopause has to be normalized and de-shamed, (2) the well-woman visit needs an overhaul to include education about menopause early in the journey, (3) providers require more training in menopausal care, and (4) digital health and technology can play a vital role. That said, even with more training, providers still face a considerable time constraint. Menopause is incredibly complex and you can’t unpack everything that’s going on with a woman, educate her on all her treatment options, support her with a personalized plan, and monitor that plan within the standard 7-15 minute visit. Even the expert physicians in menopausal care acknowledge they don’t have the time, tools, or training in lifestyle medicine and would welcome evidence-based technology to support women in midlife.
Q: What does success look like for women-centered health?
A: Success, at a minimum, is about three things. First, access to care and resources. All women deserve access. We’ve failed if access to quality care and resources for menopause, or any female life stage for that matter, is not available to every woman. Second, acknowledging women’s concerns. Women are still being dismissed when they share their symptoms and concerns and are consistently under-diagnosed. That has to stop, especially for women of color who are particularly vulnerable to this issue. Lastly, more and better products and services that truly meet the needs of women. Women have suffered for too long with poorly designed products and a lack of solutions because we’re more focused on men’s health and there’s little funding for women-centered healthcare and research.
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