Harnessing the power of technology for women’s health

In our increasingly digitised world, technology is playing an ever-greater role in our lives.

These innovations have the potential to revolutionise the way we collect, analyse and apply learnings from health data, and can play a role in improving prevention, diagnosis and management of diseases.

However, inequities in the development and use of these technologies can lead to biased data collection and perpetuate the data gap in healthcare. For example, technologies that are used to record health data are more likely to be owned by men; in low- and middle-income countries, women are 7% less likely than men to own a mobile phone and 16% less likely than men to use mobile internet.1 There are also fewer women working in AI, occupying only 26% of roles, meaning their experiences and perspectives are less likely to be considered in the development of machine learning algorithms.2

Oriana Kraft was a medical student when she first realised the impact of the gap in women’s health data on care and outcomes. “It was the first time I’d heard of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and endometriosis, which affect around 10% of the female population,” Oriana said. “I discovered that because these conditions hadn’t been prioritised in terms of research and funding, the data needed to develop effective diagnostic and therapeutic options for them didn’t exist. If you were finally able to receive a diagnosis (after a long and arduous journey of seven and a half years for endometriosis or four and a half years for PCOS), then that’s it, you are stuck managing the disease since no effective therapeutics exist. At least that’s what we were taught in medical school. I wasn’t satisfied with that as an answer, so I started researching what was being done to bridge these fundamental gaps in care in women’s health. That’s when I discovered FemTech.”

FemTech describes innovative technologies designed specifically to collect women’s health data. It ranges from software to track womens’ periods, to wearable devices that monitor heart rates and other health indicators.

Oriana’s experience led her to create thewhich Roche’s InnoLab supported last year. The summit brings together leaders across the FemTech industry to discuss important topics, including the link between gender and effective medicines, how to bridge the data gap, and how new and innovative screening and tracking technologies are revolutionising care for women. “I’ve always been fascinated by the potential for digital technologies to bridge the gap in women’s healthcare, so when I discovered the FemTech industry, I was shocked that it wasn’t more widely known, particularly amongst clinicians, researchers and students who should be helping drive this change,” Oriana shared. “The FemTechnology Summit aims to bring together all the people who are working on these solutions, to ensure innovation isn’t happening in silos.”

In the same way that women inandcan promote the consideration of women’s experiences when innovating patient care, ensuring women are involved in the development and use of machine learning algorithms may help to elevate women’s experiences to be considered in the design of these technologies. “As well as building technologies designed specifically to collect women’s data, it’s essential to increase the representation of women in decision making positions,” added Oriana. “This is how we can ensure that the high-quality and unbiased data being generated by FemTech solutions are understood and appropriately utilised, so we can ultimately get life-saving solutions to market.”

At Roche, we also look to harness the power of innovative technologies to improve outcomes for patients. For example, in 2021, we partnered with Microsoft on a tool that uses AI and cloud technologies to improve breast cancer diagnosis in the Middle East. The tool, built using AI algorithms based on previous data, assesses mammograms to identify the location of breast cancer, and then calculates an abnormality score, with 96% accuracy.

“Previously, mammograms were interpreted by a number of readers,” explains Hossam Hadhoud, Healthcare System Partner, Roche Egypt, who worked on the team that developed this tool. “The first provided primary diagnosis, the second confirmed, and for debatable cases, the third reader settled on the final diagnosis. The AI breast cancer diagnosis tool now plays the role of the first reader, assigning positive cases with information about location and an abnormality score to the second reader. This means we are able to detect more breast cancers, more quickly, and with better accuracy.”

The tool is not only improving efficiency in the diagnosis process, but also the accuracy of breast cancer diagnoses. “Our hope is that the tool will help with breast cancer diagnoses in countries where it is being used, by enabling greater accuracy in detection, classification, and prediction of patients with breast cancer to ultimately be able to treat more women effectively,” Hossam shared.

Technologies that focus on women’s health, like FemTech and the AI breast cancer diagnosis tool, have the potential to enable more equitable data collection and data sharing, advancing healthcare for women, as we can learn from this data to improve diagnoses and treatments. “The whole healthcare industry is going through a paradigm shift and transformation at the moment,” said Oriana. “It has to. The models in place are unsustainable. This presents a tremendous opportunity to go back to the start and redesign a system that works for the entire population.”


  1. GSMA. GSMA Connected Women – The Mobile Gender Gap Report 2022.; 2022

  2. World Economic Forum, Global Gender Gap Report 2020.

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