Getting FemTech into the NHS

FemTech has the potential to tackle health inequalities related to gender and improve the quality of life for millions of women in the UK. But, to achieve maximum impact, FemTech needs to be fully integrated into NHS pathways and services. In this blog, NHS Navigator for DigitalHealth.London Yasmin Stinchcombe explores how FemTech innovators can successfully engage with the NHS.

FemTech (female technology) is a category of health technology and services focused on supporting and improving women’s health. FemTech comprises numerous solutions and innovations designed for women’s health needs, including maternal, menstrual, pelvic and sexual health. In addition, the technology can also support several more general health conditions that affect women disproportionately or differently than men, such as osteoporosis or cardiovascular disease. 

These innovations can range from apps that support menstrual tracking, AI tools that improve the identification of certain conditions (such as osteoporosis) at an earlier stage, medical devices supporting symptoms of the menopause and much more. FemTech has the potential to redefine healthcare for women and by providing support that is personalised, accessible, convenient and tailored to their specific needs, it can address health equity, diversity, and inclusion. We worked with some exceptional innovations as part of our inaugural Accelerating FemTech programme.  

One of the burning questions that we worked with innovators on the programme to address was “How can we support getting FemTech into the NHS and the wider healthcare ecosystem?” 

As with most new areas of innovation, a key aspect of gaining traction, particularly within the NHS, is to ensure the innovator understands the problem or challenge they wish to solve. Within the FemTech space, this begins by listening more to women and their clinicians. Through listening with intent, we can start truly understanding the experiences, difficulties and challenges they face around their healthcare needs, as well as those they encounter in their wider day-to-day lives. By understanding the challenges that women face, innovators can create a solution that solves both a need and existing priority within the ecosystem, rather than a problem they think exists or believe to be a priority.  

This listening exercise works best when it takes a multifaceted approach; talking to women from varying backgrounds, ethnicities, ages and socio-economic groups through multiple methods. Different groups will often have unique accessibility needs, levels of knowledge and cultural experiences, which emphasises the importance of gaining root knowledge about why some women are more likely to experience certain symptoms, develop medical conditions or access certain services.

An example of this might include developing a solution that supports an increase in the uptake of cervical smear tests. Understanding why statistically fewer women are accessing cervical screening programmes is vital, with potential reasons including:

  • Difficulty accessing an appointment booking system
  • Difficulty finding an appointment at a convenient time around work and family commitments
  • A fear of pain whilst having an examination
  • Language barriers or other practical issues

Each of these issues may be addressed through innovations; others may focus on a single barrier/issue or have a broader scope.

Once the root of the challenge has been identified, another key aspect to getting FemTech innovations into the NHS is to build and develop a strong value proposition about the innovation. This includes clearly articulating the problem and solution to different stakeholders – from how the problem was identified, to how the solution solves the problem, and what the impact will be at a citizen, service and system level.  

As part of the value proposition, the innovator needs must consider and communicate: 

  • The business case and the return on investment for purchasing and using the technology (e.g., improved patient outcomes, time efficiencies or money saved)
  • What evidence is available that supports the product does what you claim it can do?
  • How does it fit into the patient pathway and how does it affect stakeholders, both directly and indirectly?
  • Information Governance (IG) and considerations

The final piece of the puzzle is to consider who the NHS audiences you will need to win over will be:

  • Who in the healthcare system benefits from this value proposition?
  • Who will implement it?
  • Who pays for it?

Very rarely is the answer to all three of those questions the same.

The value proposition and stakeholder engagement must then be tailored to each of these groups so they can clearly understand the benefit of the innovation relative to their own needs and the needs of their patients. 

Accelerating FemTech was delivered by the Health Innovation Network South London (HIN) and partners (the Network, CW Innovation, Mills & Reeves and others), utilising Innovate UK funding as part of the Biomedical Catalyst in collaboration with the Medical Research Council.