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Women turned to digital health tools in 2021, report finds

Digital health adoption among women, by race/ethnicity
Reproduced from Rock Health; Chart: Axios Visuals. Note: Indigenous includes respondents who identify as Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, American Indian or Alaska Native. 

Last year was the first time in half a decade that women reported using digital health tools at similar rates to men, a recent Rock Health report finds.

Driving the news: Also last year, mainstream health tech entrepreneurs and investors began demonstrating an interest in women entrepreneurs and women-focused health startups, the first time they've done so in at least 10 years. (Better late than never, we suppose.)

Yes, but: While 2021 represented a huge jump for the space, women-focused health tech capital represents just 5% of all digital health funding secured since Rock Health began tracking in 2011, a previous report found.

Context: Unsurprisingly, women's use of digital health tools lagged between 2015 and 2020, with women consistently reporting lower adoption of the technology compared to men.

Details: The new report found significant jumps in women's use of live video telehealth use and ownership of health wearables from 2021 and 2020 data.

  • In 2021, roughly half of women respondents said they'd used live video telehealth and owned a wearable, compared with roughly a third of women for both categories in 2020.
  • Compared with white women, Black women and Asian women reported significantly higher usage rates for wearables and digital health tracking tools, a difference the Rock Health researchers hypothesize could suggest that "women of color are seeking alternative health care experiences that better meet their needs and expectations."

The other side: Although women of color reported using wearables and tracking tools at higher rates than white women, they also reported lower satisfaction with the tools than white women, particularly for live video telehealth, and lower rates of trust in the tools.

  • Indigenous American women (30%) and Asian women (35%) respondents reported the lowest rates of “extreme satisfaction” with live video telehealth, while white women reported the highest rate (55%).
  • When it came to trust, 83% of Black women and 84% of Indigenous American women said they trust clinician-provided health information, the lowest reported trust rates for the category, compared to white women (92%).

Be smart: Women are the most active users of health care services, particularly when it comes to preventive care, the report finds.

What they're saying: Women founders of color say digital health companies must invest in care teams that reflect their patients’ identities and experiences, center product design in building care journeys and be mindful of the critical role community support can play in health.

  • “Marginalization in care breaks down trust in provider relationships and can have far-reaching consequences that impact our health, the health of our babies and our community at large," Mae founder and CEO Maya Hardigan tells Rock Health.
  • "Particularly for women of color, trust is central in re-orienting care relationships that have historically been rooted in violence, dismissal or other forms of discrimination," Rock Health researchers Jasmine DeSilva, Gabrielle Dell’Aquilo and Adriana Krasniansky write.
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