Modern Healthcare reporters take a deep dive with leaders in the industry who are standing out and making a difference in their organization or their field. Dr. Alice Zheng, principal at RH Capital, discusses why the women’s digital health sector has continued to grow and what’s next for innovations.
We’ve seen so much investment in digital health, and women’s digital health more specifically, over the past few years. What are the fundamentals leading to this increase in investment?
I’ve really seen women’s health from many different angles … through the years. A couple things make me excited about women’s digital health specifically. Women’s health has been historically underserved from the beginning of modern medicine. Women were thought of as small men, which is biologically not the case. And a lot of women’s conditions—specifically menopause [and] reproductive health—were neglected quite a bit in research and development.
But things are starting to change. The public discourse on women’s health has changed a lot, such as the level of awareness [about] maternal mortality in this country and the unique needs that women face. I’ve seen a huge uptick in the amount of public interest, along with investment from private companies [and] venture capitalists and the number of solutions that are being developed. We are in no way saturated.
We’re at an exciting inflection point where things are starting to change, and women’s health is becoming more of a topic.
I see digital health in particular as a way to bridge gaps in women’s healthcare. When I think about digital health, there are purely digital solutions like apps, digital therapeutics and connected devices. There are other types of innovations in digital health, where you take brick-and-mortar care and you move it virtual. And finally, there’s a bucket that I don’t spend as much time in: the business-to-business space, such as clinical decision-making software.
Do you think traditional providers have missed some of the opportunities digital health companies are now filling, or are these companies just considering hyper-specific applications for technology?
There’s a lot to unpack there. First, I would say that traditional providers have a lot on their plate. [As a] physician myself, I’ve seen behind the scenes. They have shrinking margins. They have increasingly complex patients. They have a workforce that’s getting burned out—there’s just a lot to manage. Being patient-centric isn’t necessarily always the most feasible, top-of-mind priority.
I’m not expecting traditional providers and health systems to develop innovations. I think [they could] adopt the innovations so that some [digital health] solutions can help fill the gaps when the traditional provider is not able to provide the care or [when] the patient is not able to access it.
After the U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, I know there’s been a lot of talk about patient privacy when using these different solutions. Is this something you’re thinking about as a funder of these companies?
In the post-Roe era, that’s become even more important, in a couple of ways. One is in the actual fundamentals of the business: the technology. Do you have all the right checks in place? Have you built in the different parts of ensuring privacy? Also, for consumer products, it can be really detrimental if there are any perceptions that you don’t have that [security] built in. So, there are the actual fundamentals of it, but then there is also perception. There’s a lot of fear right now around how data will be used and how state-by-state policies are different. Frankly, the implications of [the ruling on] Roe are really vast.