Why insurers should care more about Women’s Health
Philips is transforming into a health tech company that is striving for better health and well-being through meaningful innovation. We sat down with Charlotte Eterman-Buys, Strategy Director Philips Mother and Childcare, and Raymon uit de Bulten, Venture Leader Mother & Child Care at Philips. They shared why Women’s Health is needed and how Philips is developing services to add value to people’s lives and women in particular.
Why is Women’s Health so important?
Charlotte: Female bodies are different from men’s bodies. Females are shaped differently, have different organs, have different hormonal balances, and respond differently to conditions and to medication. But this is not yet fully acknowledged. For example, heart disease is still the number one cause of death among women. When a man suffers from heart disease, he can experience pain in his chest, and a paralyzed left side of the face. We all know these symptoms. However, women that suffer from this condition, can be a bit nauseous and can feel a bit dizzy. These symptoms are very hard to recognize and this is why women die more often of this disease. Women’s health is not a niche; we account for 50% of the population, so we cannot leave women underserved. At the same time, we also see that there are rising women’s health issues, we notice increasing infertility and increasing maternal mortality rates. So now it’s really time to act and accelerate women’s health to bridge the gap. We do see changes like uptakes in investments, but this is still in a nascent stage. Endometriosis, for example, is a condition that 5 to 10% of women suffer from. Endometriosis is cells similar to the lining of the uterus, but it grows outside of the uterus and it causes severe pain and severe bleeding. It takes eight years to diagnose, while endometriosis is an important cause of infertility. Women can go through fertility programs for years and years to only later find out that endometriosis was actually the cause of all of it.
Raymon: And endometriosis is definitely not a singular example. There are actually many examples in this space where conditions are way more prevalent or very different for women versus men. Women are four times more likely to develop osteoporosis. Also, women are actually two times more likely to develop dementia over their lifetimes. The problem is that we actually know very little about all of this. There’s a huge data gap in terms of all the stuff that we know about the female body and its physiology. What I think is mind-blowing, is that in clinical studies, women were only mandatorily involved since 1994. Before 1994, women were not necessarily put into clinical studies. Blows my mind why? This, while 70% of chronic pain is actually experienced by women and 80% of all pain is actually experienced by women. The data gap in that sense is perpetuated also by the fact that funding in this space is really, really scarce. So, although we see a lot of fintech companies now coming to the stage, there’s not as much funding in this space as we would need it to be. The data gap is still there.
If you look at the role of women in health care, actually women are the chief medical officer of the home. And what does that mean? 90% of all health care decisions in a household are done by women. Also, 80% of household spending on health care is done by women as well. So they are making actually most of the decisions. They’re far more likely to use digital tools to support themselves throughout their health. So way more likely to have digital tools being used. On top of that, 80% of all healthcare professionals are women. So as such, women are a pivotal role in the health care system in our homes. Unfortunately, we’re not looking after them well enough.
What does this mean for insurers?
Raymon: Collaboration across this healthcare continuum is incredibly important. We actually see that a lot of players need to come together to make this happen. For example governments, providers, hospitals, health care practitioners, companies like Philips, also companies caring for women in the workplace, and health insurance companies. If you look at the US government, there’s hardly any maternity care at all. Governments can make a real difference in actually impacting women’s lives. Next to that, of course, health insurance companies have a huge role to play.
Charlotte: Think about the journey of fertility, conceiving pregnancy, postpartum, becoming a mother, becoming a parent, and then also getting back into the rest of your daily routine. Why is this such a pivotal moment? It does not only change things physically, but mentally everything changes in your life. Families need a bigger house, they need a (bigger) car. They also need health and life insurance. So it’s a very important moment in life when so many changes. At Philips, we believe that if we can actually be there at this moment of truth, this is the point where you can really build a relationship that could potentially last a lifetime. But unfortunately, this is not always a happy journey for all of us. What we actually see is that those hurdles and health problems can increase at that moment. Of course, this has to do with unhealthy lifestyles, but also with increasing childbearing age. One out of eight couples struggle to conceive. Also, 30% of pregnancies is already high risk and this number is increasing as well. Everything that happens postpartum is being ignored as we’re often very oriented looking at the health of the baby. New moms go through so much. This results in a lack of care to bring her back into the workplace which is leading to a lot of postpartum depression and burnout afterward.
Is Philips here to bridge that health gap?
Charlotte: At Philips, we’ve been transforming into a health tech company. We take it as a deep responsibility to include women and to focus on women’s health, as you cannot ignore half of the population. We approach health at the entire care continuum. We do not only look at diagnosis and treatment, but we include healthy living, preventative care, and home care. Only by covering this entire continuum, we believe that we can realize better health outcomes, improve patient experience, and staff experience and we can lower the cost of care.
Raymon: You might know us as a company that’s really active in the consumer space: breast pumps, bottles, power toothbrushes, and so on. But we also have created support apps and have a very big clinical space. For example, we created ultrasound solutions that are used in the hospital or even at home to do remote checkups as well. We see the necessity of preventative care being incredibly big in this journey. There are a couple of ingredients that are important to get this right. First of all, it’s really delivering the right care at the right point in time. So preventative care only works if you’re there early enough. That also means that you should be there when the customer is not even thinking about it yet. Next to that, having access to really high-quality information. So information that’s accessible in the way that you find it, it’s accessible in the way that you can digest it, and it’s high quality that really connects and resonates with those people. And last but not least, everybody will have a different journey. Everybody deserves their own journey as well. That means that you need to have an engaging experience that actually caters to the individual needs of different people. We have a global app called Pregnancy+, where we guide women along their pregnancy journey.
Wow! Can you tell us more about this app?
Charlotte: We’re proud to say that we’re able to reach 90% of pregnant women in Western Europe. This also means we have coverage across most age brackets. We educate users and aim to help them to adopt healthier lifestyles. Downloading it in the first trimester gives us ample opportunity to engage with these women; to educate them and boost their confidence. Research has been done to determine how this app has been impacting lives, how people feel during their pregnancy, and if it actually has been impacting behavior. First, we saw that by using the app, users better understood when and when not they needed to consult a physician. In over 50% of the cases, women also indicated that this impacted their behavior because they visited doctors less. This is important as we want to have efficient healthcare, plus we don’t want to make a pregnant woman feel restless when it’s actually not necessary. Secondly, we measured that 96% of users actually better understand what is healthy and what is not healthy. Also, over 80% of women actually felt that they adopted healthier lifestyles. Third, when becoming a parent, it can be a huge change mentally. We see that women feel more educated and therefore they feel more confident when going into labor or once they become parents.
Are you already collaborating with insurers?
Raymon: We are already collaborating with different public health insurances in the US: specifically Medicaid. All the women on Medicaid in Michigan can get access to this app and get additional content and information to help them throughout their journey. One thing that insurance companies emphasize, is that it is so difficult to find out who is pregnant. Now they are one of the first ones to know because the first thing that women do is download an app to get more information. There is also a big connection between dental care and pregnancy outcomes. So about, well, up to 75 women who are pregnant will develop gingivitis, which is a precursor to periodontitis. This can have a huge impact on your pregnancy outcomes, such as having a low birth weight or getting a preterm birth. Unfortunately, not a lot of women are aware of this. We also studied the dental habits of the app users. And quite shockingly, we saw that only 45% brush their teeth just once a day instead of the recommended two times. On top of that, only 32% of women brush their teeth for the recommended 2 minutes a day. And of course, there’s an overlap between that audience. 39% of women were not aware of the impact of proper dental hygiene on their pregnancy outcomes. We did a 12-year-long, really in-depth study on the effects of having proper dental care on women’s pregnancy. This is what we call “The Happy Study”, which we performed in Virginia. We saw a reduction of 30% in preterm birth with preterm birth dropping from 11.25% to 7% just with dental care and advice. Now, bear in mind, it’s not just dental care on its own. We’re making people way more aware of their own health care and what they need to do to stay healthy.