Innovation Blog

How We Can Rethink Healthcare Through Female-Centered Design


In a healthcare world built largely by and for men, women’s needs often take backseat in the process of design and innovation. Traditional medical practices and innovative technologies were not built with consideration for women’s bodies or experiences. For example, car safety checks use crash dummies fitted to the average male, and thus, findings show that the average woman is 47% more likely to suffer a serious injury and 71% more likely to suffer a moderate injury in a car crash.

Increasingly so, women are speaking up about their unique experiences and healthcare needs; however, there is still a gap between the innovation discussions and the implementation of these changes in the healthcare sphere.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with some female entrepreneurs within the MassChallenge HealthTech community about how their companies are disrupting healthcare and increasing women’s access to care. The conversations focused on two key questions about restructuring healthcare.

How do we center inclusive discussions within healthcare?

Let’s start with the source of the problem. All too often, innovators and physicians do not consult consumers in these conversations. Those with lived experience offer the most useful perspectives, and yet, they are rarely included in the innovative process.

Jen Horonjeff, Founder and CEO of Savvy Cooperative is a patient herself, and as such, noticed this dissonance between her peer and professional spheres firsthand. As both a patient and a human-centered design specialist, Horonjeff had unique insight into conversations surrounding healthcare practice.

However, she also explained that her professional seat at the table “tokenized” her patient advocacy role, and so Horonjeff founded Savvy Cooperative to “democratize” the opportunities for the end users and innovators. Regarding women’s healthcare, Horonjeff describes the numerous times she’s worked with male founders and innovation teams to develop women’s healthcare solutions. While men are often successful in the women’s healthcare sphere, Horonjeff emphasizes the importance of incorporating diverse perspectives in the innovative process.

To address women’s healthcare needs, women need to continue to drive and contribute to the processes.

Amy VanHaren, Founder and CEO of pumpspotting, similarly explained how her personal experiences inspired her. As a mother herself, VanHaren developed pumpspotting out of her struggle to balance breastfeeding, working, and prioritizing her own health. In addition to launching her startup, VanHaren addressed the need for community engagement through her Breast Express, which she used as an “oasis” for mothers as well as a marketing, research, and thought leadership tool. The Breast Express is a physical manifestation of the necessity of building a business model for and by women.

The root of investing time and energy to consult the user is compassion. Aagya Mathur, Co-Founder and CEO of Aavia, brought this concept back to “empathy” for the end user. Her startup’s mission is inextricably tied to access to birth control and autonomy over the female body. While the birth control pill itself has been refined over time, Mathur did not see much innovation in its technology and delivery. Seeking to “bring the pill to the 21st century and meet women where they are,” Mathur’s unique ability to meld access to technology and medicine signals a promising direction for women’s healthcare delivery. Through an iterative development process, the Aavia birth control case and app grew dramatically from conversations about the end users’ priorities, preferences, and necessities. To put it succinctly, Mathur realized a need for a solution that consumers would “need and want, rather than…buy and put away.”

The common denominator across these startups’ successful innovations is the invaluable perspective of the end user. By feeling for and learning from the women engaging with their businesses, these founders have developed evidence-based processes and fostered inclusive discussions that prioritize their female consumers within their business models.

How is the healthcare industry recognizing and addressing women’s needs?

As the healthcare industry adapts and evolves, there is even more of a need to consider women’s needs. Rather than structuring healthcare solely to address physical needs, these founders are reframing how we approach problems and access to solutions. For Horonjeff, this harkens back to a need for inclusion of women in discussions about their particular medical needs.

However, the politicization of the female body and reproductive healthcare also holds heavy influence—if women do not have ample right to control their body, how can they seek adequate care? Horonjeff highlights that many of the “barriers are not for lack of innovation” but because many stigmas and social determinants of health hinder “making women’s health equitable and accessible.”

While healthcare has historically sidelined the female voices, Aavia, pumpspotting, and Savvy Cooperative all indicate cause for hope. As women demand more space for their impactful innovations, the healthcare sphere is growing in response. VanHaren believes we are merely seeing the “tip of the iceberg” in the ways women’s healthcare has refocused on viewing “holistic” views of women.

By integrating women’s access into their worlds, we will see a more seamless delivery of healthcare and innovation that genuinely addresses women’s needs, and we look forward to seeing which HealthTech companies will emerge next to center female consumers and impact the industry.

For Related Reading See: 

What Is the Future of Healthcare? MassChallenge HealthTech Champions Gather to Discuss

Female Healthtech Innovators Share Insights on Pivoting in Challenging Times 

Meet 8 Boston-Based Women Who Are Shaping the Digital Health Scene


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