Health and Healthcare

Women’s healthcare needs are changing: How do we meet them where they are?

Not enough is being done to meet women’s health needs. Image: Philips

Deeptha Khanna
Chief Business Leader, Personal Health; Executive Vice-President and Member of the Executive Committee, Royal Philips
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Health and Healthcare

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting
  • In the past decade, we have seen greater attention drawn to the gender equity gap in healthcare.
  • Yet, we are still seeing huge disparities in the treatment of women's needs, maternal health in particular.
  • We must listen to women, understand the unique health barriers they face and challenge ourselves to innovate in ways that meet them where they are.

Only in the past decade have we seen greater global attention drawn to the gender equity gap in healthcare – from equal representation in clinical trials to reducing mortality rates for women. And, while it’s encouraging to see increasing awareness around women’s health, it’s also evident that in our efforts to expand access, a one-size-fits-all approach does not work.

This is especially prevalent in maternal health care, where we see healthcare needs varying by country, community, race and ethnicity. There is no justifiable reason for a woman living in sub-Saharan Africa to have a roughly 130 times higher risk of dying from causes relating to pregnancy or childbirth than a woman in Europe or North America.

And, it’s not only low-income countries where health disparities show up – maternal mortality also remains a critical issue for health systems in developed countries. In 2020, for example, the maternal mortality rate for African-American women in the US was nearly triple that of Caucasian women.

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Women's healthcare needs are evolving

Research also shows that women’s health challenges and needs continue to evolve, requiring health systems to be agile enough to support their needs now – and in the future. We also know that women today are increasingly looking for a better healthcare experience that meets their unique requirements during different life stages. The approach to delivering care should be tailored and scalable. While this may sound like a contradiction, it’s not: both need to be true.

What’s promising is that much of the technology necessary for this approach already exists. Mobile apps and AI-augmented solutions, for example, can extend the reach of existing services and offer new ways to deliver customized care for women. The complexity lies in how we maximize the innovations we have at our fingertips today – and expand their application to drive impact at scale.

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Delivering credible, trusted information, across the generational divide

One of the more notable trends is the way that Gen Z women (born between 1997 and 2012) are increasingly looking outside traditional channels for health information. According to Philips’ new US study of 2,000 women between the ages of 18-27 about their perceptions on health services and resources, the majority (56%) of Gen Z women are more likely to seek health advice from TikTok than an in-person doctor. Even more striking: 16% of Gen Z women say they visit their doctor less than once a year or not at all, with primary reasons being they access information from alternative sources (39%) or they don’t trust health professionals (34%).

These digital natives require an approach that meets them where they are – on their devices. At Philips, we’ve seen a 'digital first' strategy succeed with our Avent Pregnancy+ app. This gives expectant mothers access to timely health education and has more than 60 million global downloads to date. It supports expecting parents by offering personalized content, expert-written information and interactive 3D models to track development. The tailoring and localization of the app, available in 22 languages, make it a useful and credible source for women throughout their entire pregnancy journey.

We’re now working to expand access to the app through the power of public-private partnerships. For example, as part of a partnership with the state of Michigan in the US, Pregnancy+ provides much-needed expert information to women in underserved communities, connecting them to a wide range of state resources and reminding them to set up clinical check-ups with health professionals throughout their pregnancy.

Innovating for a patient-centric approach, across all geographies

When it comes to physical access to care, outcomes in women’s health – particularly maternal health – are particularly concerning. Each day, nearly 800 women around the world die from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth, with 95% of maternal deaths happening in low-income countries. In the US, maternal mortality rates and health outcomes continue to trend downward, with the numbers especially alarming among African American and Indigenous American women.

Even more alarming: more than 80% of maternal deaths in the country are deemed preventable. And in some European countries, maternal mortality rates are stagnating despite advances in maternal healthcare over the past 20 years.

One of the critical issues that systems have been grappling with is how to reach more women with necessary services, especially considering chronic understaffing in clinics and hospitals around the world. A key solution lies in maximizing healthcare hardware innovations paired with digital software solutions to reach more people in more parts of the world, while also lowering the barriers for healthcare workers to deliver high-quality care.

For example, at Philips, we are developing and piloting new AI-driven algorithms on the Philips Lumify Handheld Ultrasound to enable front-line workers in remote areas to perform fetal health checks by leveraging the power of AI to simplify key measurements to identify abnormalities during pregnancy. Should concerns arise in the scan, expectant mothers can be referred to centralized health centres for more comprehensive obstetric expertise.

This innovation would also be delivered alongside a more streamlined training programme, reducing the time spent learning to use ultrasound systems from weeks to just hours, greatly expanding the number of health workers who could integrate this into routine care. Following the success of our pilot programme in Kenya, we aim to scale this solution and roll it out to wherever it is needed, further increasing access to vital care across the world.

What’s next for women's health?

While there is still much more to learn about how to truly meet the needs of women across generations and geographies, the healthcare sector is making positive strides. With points of care continuing to move closer to the home, we’re already seeing a rise in remote monitoring and telehealth services.

However, to offer accessible, tailored care at scale takes more than just high-tech solutions. It requires collaborative public-private partnerships that connect patient needs to more affordable solutions, as well as greater inclusion of technological education to equip the health professionals of the future to lead in a digital world.

By listening to women, understanding the unique health barriers they face and challenging ourselves to innovate in ways that meet them where they are, we can better maximize the technology we have to help ensure all women can access their fundamental right to health.

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