Women want options when it comes to their healthcare and understanding their fertility – and Silicon Valley is responding. In 2021, the femtech market was worth around 51 billion USD worldwide, and it’s forecasted to double by 2030. Historically, options for health monitoring and fertility care have often seemed limited, especially when sitting in front of an American-trained doctor. But today, wearable tech like the celebrity favorite Oura Ring and apps like Flo, Clue, FEMM and FDA-approved Natural Cycles are giving patients greater insight into their own health. With this data in hand, women are increasingly seeking out medical professionals who are equipped with more extensive training to address their health concerns.
As Women Learn More About Their Fertility, Doctors Are Learning More, Too
Physicians are beginning to notice these trends towards expanding options for women’s healthcare. Medical school students in particular are seeking out specialized training to equip them with more knowledge about fertility awareness in order to serve patients.
One organization providing this training is FACTS About Fertility, a group of physicians, health care professionals, and educators who are working to provide the medical community with information about fertility awareness-based methods (FABMs).
Dr. Marguerite Duane, Co-founder and Executive Director of FACTS, emphasizes the importance of patients working with trained medical professionals, rather than relying on technology alone: “I tell women, ‘You’re smarter, you’re smarter than your smartphone!’ Therefore, instead of just using an app to tell you when you may be fertile or not, I encourage women to learn to track their cycles with trained FABM instructors. By working with their educator or FABM trained medical professional, they can get to the root cause of the underlying abnormalities and develop a targeted plan of treatment.”
Deepa Manda, a fourth-year medical student at University of Pikeville Kentucky College of Osteopathic Medicine (UP-KYCOM), plans to become a primary care physician in rural communities. She recently completed two elective classes with FACTS because she wanted a more holistic education about women’s health – beyond traditional IVF tracks for fertility care.
Manda found that FABMs are a great educational tool for women to learn about their own bodies, regardless of their stage of life. She was impressed that FABMs can help physicians in their care of women ages 15-45, monitoring them for a variety of medical issues that women have beyond fertility.
Growing up in an Indian culture, Manda felt that women’s bodies weren’t discussed. Because of this, she appreciates that FABMs are designed to educate patients, helping them make “better decisions for themselves.” Because the first goal of FABMs is education, the methods are not sexualized or political, and Manda believes they offer ways of tracking fertility that encourage self-government.
Better Education Means Better Care for Women
In practice, one female Internal Medicine physician (who wishes to remain anonymous) has used the FACTS CME course to support her patients better. She has been happy to provide patients with preliminary knowledge on how they can monitor their bodies’ signs of fertility. She sees firsthand that FABMs give “tremendous self-knowledge” to women, and that they cooperate with other medical management.
Furthermore, she has a vision for greater incorporation of FABMs into medical practice: “I think at minimum, a starting point would be for medical communities to incorporate fertility window monitoring into treatment. This I think would be a tremendous first step because of how easily the knowledge of a woman’s fertility window could be incorporated into any other care they are receiving.”
She also has witnessed the negative effects of oral contraceptive pills on women. Recently, she saw a 31-year-old female who had no prior history of deep vein thrombosis or clotting disorders. However, the patient had been taking a combined oral contraceptive (COC) pill since high school. The patient had six varicose vein ablations, and before coming to her for treatment, the patient had never been told (even by her gynecologist) that the COC was a significant risk factor for the condition.
Alec Hampton, a fourth-year medical student at Kansas City University School of Osteopathic Medicine, completed both FACTS electives this year, saying, “I feel they were invaluable to my future training to become a Family Medicine physician. FABMs are important because they empower both women and men.”
He said that his knowledge of FABMs allows him to care for women in an alternative way than what historical frameworks in medicine have offered to women in the U.S. “Many women, particularly those who are wanting to conceive, do not want to be prescribed hormonal contraception. These women are largely ignored, or referred to a specialist who can take months to even get an appointment with. FABMs provide a solution for these women and give the primary physician the tools to address the real problems affecting their patients.”
Noah Gomez, a second year OB-GYN resident at The Sisters of Charity OB/GYN Residency program in Buffalo, New York, sees that there is a large demand among women to learn natural methods of understanding their cycle. “Women want to know when they can get pregnant and not get pregnant; they want to know when they’re healthy and when they’re not.”
Gomez, who completed the FACTS electives in his fourth year of medical school, thinks that a good way to start integrating FABMs into mainstream OB/GYN practice is to add discussion of FABM use to the standard screening questions during gynecological appointments.
He believes that FABMs provide an education framework for teaching the signs and symptoms of fertility, saying, “FABMs change the paradigm of gynecology, allowing women to truly understand what’s going on within their bodies on a cyclic basis. They give them power to make their own decisions.”
Expanding Diverse and Holistic Options for Women’s Healthcare
Young medical students and physicians who recently entered the workforce are largely optimistic about how the use of FABMs can expand options for women’s healthcare. They are excited about the use of FABMs as a collaborative and empowering tool for both women and men to use while working alongside appropriately trained medical practitioners.
As Alec Hampton put it, “By providing superior healthcare, word of FABMs’ success will continue to spread, making it impossible to ignore. By practicing good, ethical medicine, we will create a demand for exactly that.”