Leveraging Novel Technology to Bridge the Gap for Women's Cardiovascular Health


Marija Butkovic is a lawyer-turned-entrepreneur, innovation and business consultant, feminist, and advocate for diversity and inclusion in the tech sector.

She is the founder and CEO of Women of Wearables—a leading global organization and ecosystem created by and for women and allies in wearable tech, health tech, and femtech industries. Marija is also a Forbes contributor writing for the ForbesWomen, where her key topics of interest include diversity and inclusion, female leadership, women's health, and health tech innovation.

She is passionate about supporting female founders in the tech space and serves as a Venture Partner in Simsan Ventures where she is on a mission to find and back the best underrepresented founders in Europe, India, and South Korea, from the Pre-seed stage to Series A stage.

Marija Butkovic Women of Wearables

For many years scientists have thought reproductive health was the only difference between women and men. We now know that isn’t true, and for a variety of reasons women’s health has suffered for it.

When both of my grandfathers died from cardiovascular disease in their 50s, my first thought as a small child was “will my grandmothers follow them?” Silly, I know, but my young brain thought if it could happen to my grandfathers, why couldn’t it happen to my grandmothers? At the end of the day, they all were of similar age and similar lifestyles, so my assumption was they might all die in the same way. Luckily, that didn’t happen, and it should have started a conversation in my family about whether women should be more informed and educated about cardiovascular disease, but it didn’t. What risk does cardiovascular disease pose to my own health, if any? And if it does, can I prevent it? We simply never talked about it.

According to the American Heart Association, cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of women in the U.S.—more than all cancers combined. Although cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death among females, it’s still seen mainly as a man’s disease.

This is the Problem...

The lack of conversation, education, and research, on how differences in our bodies affect the care and treatment we get. Much of this stems from the historical lack of female inclusion in clinical trials, the lack of funding, and the subsequent lack of adequate data.

Although Heart Disease is the Leading Cause of Death for Women in the US:
Women Under-represented in Cardiovascular Clinical Trials
Black American Women Under-Represented in Pharmaceutical Clinical Trials

A very practical example of this is prescription drugs; an analysis of 10 prescription drugs in the U.S. that were withdrawn from the market between 1997 and 2001 found that eight posed “greater health risks for women” mainly because of adverse drug events due to “known pharmacodynamic differences or because of greater exposure of women to these drugs.”

The lack of women included in clinical trials for drugs could be the reason women experience more adverse events after taking medication. Women often report more significant overall medication side-effects than men, leading patients or their clinicians to stop medications or decrease dosages to a more tolerable side-effect profile. One research study examined the care that women and men with heart attack symptoms receive from emergency medical services after a 911 call and found that women were less likely to receive aspirin, be resuscitated, or be transported to the hospital in ambulances using lights and sirens.

Women's Health Doesn't Exist in a Silo

There are many areas of female reproductive and non-reproductive health and well-being that are directly related to increased chances of cardiovascular disease, but these have been overlooked historically.

A prescription for reducing bias doesn’t exist, but the more data we have about women’s health, the closer we will get to achieving greater equity in healthcare. In last several years, the gender data gap has shifted, resulting in new life saving findings for women.

For example, we now know that:

The list just goes on and on.

With the rise of the femtech movement—the whole new generation of diagnostic tools, products, and services addressing women's health issues, we can now understand and treat female health better and with more efficacy, and this includes cardiovascular health, too.

As someone who has been in this space for quite a few years now, I can say that finding femtech companies addressing female cardiovascular health is not an easy task. Areas such as fertility and pregnancy are saturated with innovative solutions for women of reproductive age, yet, areas such as cardiovascular women’s health haven’t received that much attention. Until we start looking at female health in a holistic way, we will never achieve better and more personalized care for all.

Nevertheless, slowly, but surely, investors are recognizing the importance of investing in this space, with some funds even deploying capital strictly to this sector now. Some of these investments and innovative solutions make me very excited and confident that the future is bright. For example, platforms that connect women of color to culturally sensitive healthcare professionals and providers, community support and healthcare education are in high demand these days. One in five women will die from cardiovascular disease and this statistic is even grimmer for Hispanic and Asian women. This is precisely why solutions like these are needed.

Capturing heart data with a bra seems to be an obvious solution for women with a higher risk of heart disease, right? So why has no one ever designed one? Not until now. With sensors being embedded in the washable, stretchable fabric that makes the bra, and the fact that an average woman is wearing one daily, you surely won’t be forgetting to put yours on in the morning. And, it’s washable. What’s not to like?

Living a Long and Healthy Life is the New Standard

But it also means that our society is aging, and healthcare services need to follow that trend by providing the quality of service to those in the later stages of their lives.

Cloud solutions for affordable real-time remote heart health monitoring mean that we can now analyze, predict and prevent heart attacks, strokes and other types of cardiovascular disease states for targeted risk groups of patients. It also means that healthcare can become portable and more accessible, outside the doctor’s practice.

Similar to this solution, some companies are building platforms with holistic approaches targeting women in the menopause space—a stage of our lives which is inevitably connected to increased risks of getting diabetes, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis or dementia. Combining data with clinical practice and evidence-based research, companies are offering personalized approaches for women in their 50’s and 60’s, so they can learn about these challenges before they happen.

Women’s health and women’s cardiovascular health are not niche areas of healthcare and shouldn’t be perceived as such.

Investing in women’s health is not a charitable cause. By not doing so, we are missing out on some really important business opportunities. Women’s health is a public health issue that affects everyone on this planet, and society at large. After all, we do account for 50 percent of the world’s population. It’s time we start treating women as equals and give women’s health the recognition and funding it deserves.

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