On September 9th 2014, Apple CEO Tim Cook detailed the company’s latest breakthrough product, “Apple Health”. It was proudly paraded promising the most comprehensive digital tracking of an individual’s health and wellbeing. From monitoring sodium intake to recording sleep cycles, it was tipped as a world’s first in its absolute breadth of tracked health data metrics. A game-changer in personalised healthcare, it aimed to empower users with vital information that informed better decision-making in lifestyle choices. Glaringly, Apple chose not include the tracking of menstruation in its comprehensive metrics; an exclusion that was pounced on by critics worldwide as a neglect of women’s healthcare. It has since rectified this oversight, and included fertility forecast and menstruation in its list but it still begs the question: how did a global tech company build a product, and forget about the needs of half of the world’s population?
Create what you need
The list of top health concerns that women have versus men reads very differently. Women are concerned about health issues such as breast and cervical cancer, maternal and reproductive health, depression, and violence against them (especially physical and sexual violence). Men on the other hand, are concerned about heart attacks, cancer, weight gain, and strokes. This difference in perspectives carries over into the discussions held by tech talent within the digital healthcare space, and ultimately determines which product gets made first (or at all).
With the tech industry disproportionately male-dominated, women usually form the minority at these discussions. At Google, only 17 percent of its tech talent are female. At Facebook, it is 15 percent. As a result, there continues to be a lack of focus on addressing women’s needs in digital healthcare. With women not part of the conversation during the development process, it is then unsurprising that there are limited apps built focused on women’s healthcare.
Building digital products for women
In fact, an audit of women healthcare apps available found that 80 percent of these apps tracked fertility and menstruation cycles. This greatly overlooks the breadth of women healthcare needs that can potentially be addressed digitally. With more women and girls encouraged to enter the tech industry (and nurtured to pick up coding), this potential can finally be unlocked.
The Clue app for example, was created by co-founder Ida Tin and provides a more nuanced approach at tracking fertility and menstruation cycles for women. Its expanded feature set includes tracking PMT-related (pre-menstruation) symptoms like low energy level and moods – symptoms that continue to baffle the majority of men worldwide.
In Mumbai, a group of girls aged between eight and sixteen years old picked up coding through an innovation slum project, and created mobile apps that addressed women safety, access to water and education – issues that affect women more than men. In particular, the app “Women Fight Back” tackles women’s health concern of violence against them through features such as distress alarms, location mapping and emergency contacts.
The future of digital healthcare
The gender gap within the tech workforce is decreasing, with more girls and women formally or informally getting trained in tech. The progress however continues to be slow, so it remains to be seen to what extent women’s healthcare will be represented within digital tech. Ultimately, to create the best healthcare products, digital or not, it is important that the perspectives of men and women (and to expand it further, those within the LGBT communities) are equally included in the conversation and heard. With more women in technology, there is an opportunity that instead of being confined to the role of “consumer” and “user”, women will ultimately be able to create digital healthcare products personalised to their needs.
Do you wanna know how women can rock tech, discuss about it and get to know the code girls? Save your ticket for our next event in Zurich at the Impact Hub: http://healthinar-codegirls.eventbrite.de
About the Author
Aisha Schnellmann is a Singaporean sociologist by training, interested in healthcare, education, and sustainability issues. She is passionate about producing content that promotes meaningful dialogue, focusing on print and digital content that resonates with a strong call-to-action. Based in Zurich, her interest in digital healthcare grew from the conversations she had with committed medical staff in rural hospitals in Asia, who remain hard-pressed with the technology available to them.