Investment in technological innovation focusing specifically on female healthcare is lacking. Investments in the sector account for less than 2% of investments in healthcare innovations and research.
However, there is hope for improvement, as we begin to observe the emergence of FemTech, an area of technology that aims to improve the health and well-being of women.
In the past years the market size of FemTech has been growing. In 2019 it already amounted to approximately $18.7 billion and is estimated to grow up to $1.186 trillion by 2027.
Many FemTech startups are already assisting women with solutions for improving menstrual health, fertility, or maternal healthcare, among other issues. Distributed ledger technology (DLT) can strengthen the impact of these solutions. This blog post will provide an overview of the benefits that IOTA’s distributed ledger technology can provide to FemTech.
A quick primer on IOTA
Connectivity has never been so simple – and at the same time so complex. Digital technologies have empowered our lives, accelerated economic development, and raised living standards around the world across many industries. Still, as we move deeper into the digital age, information processing and ownership are becoming major concerns for individual privacy, businesses and regulators.
Addressing the issues of data privacy and security, IOTA enables secure data and value transactions while providing an architecture that is scalable and decentralized. The IOTA protocol (known as “the Tangle”) is a distributed ledger, similar to the underlying technology used in cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and Ethereum. As such, it is based on the same principles as blockchain technology but built on a different technical basis, using a directed acyclic graph (DAG). This eliminates the energy-intensive process called mining, meaning that the Tangle can process transactions in parallel, scaling with growing activity in the network while keeping emissions to a minimum. Because there’s no mining, IOTA is fee-less and applications can be used without the need to hold or buy tokens. In contrast to centralized solutions, such as a centralized server model of healthcare data being present in the healthcare governance of many countries, it is highly secure and not prone to security breaches and attacks causing downtime. Its technology can also be used in lightweight devices like a smartphone. Considering these characteristics, IOTA opens up a wide range of use cases across different industries while ensuring data security and protection against the exploitation of personal data.
In particular, IOTA’s capabilities and frameworks hold many opportunities for the FemTech sector. But how and where exactly could these be transferred to FemTech?
IOTA enhances FemTech and eHealth with data security and privacy
Technology is transforming healthcare. The combination of wearables and sensors enhances preventive medicine and empowers patients to maintain their health with ease. When developing these solutions, data becomes the foundational building block of healthcare – from accessing health records to ensuring the data integrity of clinical research.
Let’s take a look at the different solutions DLT can provide to the FemTech sector.
As pointed out before, data is key in enabling appropriate healthcare treatment and consultation. From the point of view of the service provided for example by apps for managing your menstrual health, having more data on womens’ bodies and health can help their users manage their menstrual pain more effectively. Health sensors and wearables provide valuable insights into a patient’s health between doctor visits, thereby aiding analysis and aiding in the prescription treatments. Yet securing and handling these sensitive data streams remains a challenge.
Security concerns have already appeared in the FemTech space. For example, in 2018-2019 Privacy International, a UK-based organization, undertook an analysis of 36 period-tracking apps and found that 61% of the apps automatically transferred data to Facebook as soon as the user opened the app. The lack of security can lead to fraudsters using personal health information to create fake IDs and buy medical devices or pharmaceuticals for resale. They can also use personal health information to submit fake claims to insurers.
To prevent these fraudulent scenarios, IOTA provides an opportunity to securely document healthcare data on the Tangle without linking it to a particular person. To give individuals back control over their personal data IOTA includes different frameworks like IOTA Streams, IOTA Identity and a Proof of Concept Data Marketplace.
IOTA Streams provides secure virtual data channels and management for data publishers and subscribers. This enables public or encrypted data sharing through IOTA as the layer for immutable digital trust. It guarantees that the creator of the data is fully in charge of its permission management.
Combined with modern healthcare interoperability standards, IOTA Streams has the potential to secure health data from mobile apps and wearables and incorporate them into traditional health records. On top of this, IOTA Streams has the potential to enable the seamless and immutable exchange of data between the different healthcare providers (patients often need to consult with many healthcare providers, each with their own isolated set of records, and these records are often difficult to share securely, limiting coordination of care between providers).
But by enabling the seamless, secure and immutable exchange of data between the different healthcare providers, and combining these with data from wearables and mobile apps, IOTA Streams can create new types of patient-driven personal health records, adding great value to any FemTech solution involving data access and exchange while preserving privacy.
IOTA Identity creates self-sovereign identities (SSI): user-generated online profiles that contain verifiable personal information. The user of the SSI decides which information to share and to whom. In eHealth, SSI has two clear and important benefits. Firstly, it allows individuals to secure their data and take control of how much and with whom they share the data on a case-by-case basis. Secondly, it opens up the possibility of monetizing that data, for example in the decentralized Data Marketplace launched in 2020 by the IOTA Foundation as a Proof of Concept (PoC).
The Data Marketplace PoC has been developed as a means of monetizing data streams and providing the foundation for new business models. By potentially incorporating IOTA Identity into the Data Marketplace PoC, personal healthcare data can be accessed only with proactive consent. Users of a Data Marketplace would also have the ability to buy or sell IOTA Streams-encrypted data.
(This is especially interesting for clinical research. Research institutes studying women-specific health issues, such as breast cancer, menstrual pain, fibroids or complaints during pregnancy, would get access to patient data on the Data Marketplace to study patterns and improve future healthcare treatments.)
Through accessing Data Marketplaces, using Digital Identities or Data Streams, FemTechs (specifically research institutes focusing on women-specific healthcare) can obtain a broad range of ethically sourced data; the women providing their data could benefit financially while retaining full control over it and preserve their privacy.
Data is the fundamental building block of FemTech. Yet ensuring the security, privacy, and integrity of this data is a growing concern. This is where FemTech and IOTA can interconnect. IOTA can provide the FemTech industry with a secure solution that gives back to individuals control of their personal data.
IOTA Streams could be especially beneficial to FemTech startups, as it involves data access and exchange. Because of its distributed nature, it has the potential to open up doors to new types of patient-driven personal health records, motivating startups and organizations to provide improved counseling in women’s menstrual health. Furthermore, the combination of data marketplaces and SSI can allow the secure sale of and access to healthcare data, which, in turn, can benefit both the organizations that study data about the health of women and the individual women who share that important data.
The IOTA Foundation is a global not-for-profit foundation incorporated and headquartered in Germany. The IOTA Foundation’s mission is to support the research and development of new, open-source distributed ledger technologies (DLT), including the IOTA Tangle. The Foundation encourages the education and adoption of distributed ledger technologies through the creation of ecosystems and the standardization of these new protocols.
The IOTA Tangle moves beyond blockchain by providing the world’s first scalable, feeless and fully-decentralized distributed ledger technology. The Tangle uses its own unique technology to solve three fundamental problems with blockchain technology: high fees, scaling and centralization. It is an open-source protocol connecting the human economy with the machine economy by facilitating novel Machine-to-Machine (M2M) interactions, including secure data transfer, feeless micropayments, and secure access control for devices.
Mariana de la Roche Wills is the Lead Project Manager of the IOTA Foundation and the Co-Chair of the SISWG of INATBA. Since the beginning of her professional career, Mariana has been working as a Project Manager for different NGOs and social businesses. Mariana has a Law degree with specialization in Human Rights and Humanitarian Law and graduated with academic excellence (Colombia). Currently, she is completing an Executive Master in Public Administration (Germany).
Laura Kajtazi is working as Junior Project Manager at the IOTA Foundation and is an active Member of the SISWG of INATBA. Before working full time as a Project Manager for the IOTA Foundation Laura studied and completed her Master Programm in International Economics and Management at the University of Paderborn (Germany). In her studies she discovered her passion for Entrepreneurship and Macroeconomics and began to more closely deal with the crypto area from an entrepreneurial and monetary policy perspective. During her Master studies she has already started working as a working student for the IOTA Foundation and gained increasing insights on the benefits of Distributed Ledger Technologies for different sectors like health tech, sustainability and global trade and supply chain.