Though there have been plenty of impressive feats for women over the past decade, one area in the female race to equality that still needs improvement is the health sector. This couldn’t be truer in the United States, especially given the fact maternity leave is still considered a short-term disability. Not to mention, very few regulations limit organizations from surcharging for ‘women’ products, and the fact that medical research studies still focus heavily on men. There’s plenty to feel heated about—but there is also much to look forward to (and feel hopeful about) in the next 10 years. As teenage girls turn into professionals who will challenge norms, and as more women demand a place in science, it’s safe to say the tide is beginning to change. Here, doctors and feminist voices offer their predictions for the women’s health industry in 2020—and beyond.
Companies will provide stronger healthcare options for maternal needs and fertility
To produce a healthy bottom line and attract and keep top talent, businesses frankly have no choice but to adapt to a modern workforce. And though previous generations may have been keen on the status quo, younger professionals already show signs of seeking a stronger work-life balance, and competitive benefits. That’s partly why Dr. Seema Sarin of EHE Health says that while employers in the past have pushed women’s asks away, today, they can’t ignore health needs any longer. This is due to many reasons, but especially since—ahem—statistically, women earn more degrees than men. “Companies that put effort and funding into maximizing productivity for female employees during pregnancy and after maternity leave will see better employee retention rates,” she says. “While these initiatives will require money, it’s an investment more than an expenditure, because it will help enable women to successfully juggle work and personal life.”
Pelvic congestion syndrome diagnosis will be more common
Without a doubt, the world of medicine has grown dramatically and impactfully over the last 100 years. Even so, new breakthroughs and developments are always underway, all in an effort to provide the best care and treatment plans for women and men alike. Recently, pelvic congestion syndrome has been a trending condition validated by the medical community. Looking ahead, Dr. Christopher Hollingsworth from NYC Surgical Associates believes more women will finally have a diagnosis for chronic pain in their pelvis and lower back. What’s happening, he explains, is the blood vessels in the pelvis dilate and break down, eventually growing larger and creating uncomfortable stings of pain. In the past, doctors couldn’t pinpoint what was happening, leaving women to suffer physically and emotionally. Now that this issue has been documented and treatment via shot has proven successful, he believes more women will find relief.
Maternal mortality crisis will spur an outcry
To put it—not so—lightly, Diana Spalding, the digital education editor at Motherly says maternal mortality in the United States is a healthcare crisis. In fact, death rates associated with pregnancy, birth, and the postpartum period in the United States are rising at disproportionate rates. Spalding shares black women are three to four times more likely than white women to experience maternal illness or death. Considering the U.S. has resources available to prevent these unjustifiable rates, Spalding predicts women will demand action and options to reverse the growth. “While the alarm has been sounded, there is so much more work to be done, including hard looks at the causes of these preventable deaths, along with swift, decisive action to reverse the atrocious trend,” she explains.
Girls will grow into women who know—and own—their bodies
The most powerful trend to look forward to in the 2020s? The 15-year-old girls who will grow into 25-year-old women. And the 10-year-old girls who will grow into outspoken college-aged trailblazers. Raised by proactive parents and in a world where taboo topics are becoming more accepted and mainstream, these teenagers will guide the next gaggle of girls into greatness, predicts the co-founder and CEO of Mosie Baby, Mauren Brown. “For most of human history, a woman’s body was something to be owned by others. No one actually taught us about our cycle, about ovulation, about our cervix,” she shares. “Many women are working hard today to help educate the next generation and I predict girls growing up today will have a much better understanding of their bodies. It will lead to a stronger sense of ownership of their body than any other generation in human history.”
Female biotech will spur innovation in women’s health
As more women reveal their struggles with everything from birth control and menstruation to pregnancy and recovery, science is forced to take note. Or in other words: Companies are born from these complaints, hoping they can help fix broken systems that affect half of the population. If you ask Dr. Sarin, 2020 is only the beginning for improving female health. “New technology is currently in development to provide a variety of solutions for women’s health, from birth control to infertility fixes, genetic testing, breastfeeding and more,” she says. “Pregnancy and childbirth complications are still areas for improvement in the medical community, and new technologies will reduce the risk for women in the coming decade. With advances in AI and nanotechnology, we may see advances in hormone therapy for women throughout life, from childbearing years to post-menopause.”
Physicians will seek a non-opioid approach to managing pain
Dr. Elizabeth Cherot, OB-GYN and Chief Medical Officer of Axia Women’s Health, says that while there have been many advances in other surgical areas throughout the past few decades, innovation in women’s health has been lacking—especially for reproductive care. In fact, it may be startling to realize that when it comes to pain control during childbirth, there have been zero (yep, zero!) advancements since the 1980s, when epidural anesthesia was introduced. This means that for the past 40 years, opiates were used to address any discomfort and healing following a c-section delivery. Though not everyone is at risk, Dr. Chero says women are 40 percent more likely than men to become long-term opioid users after surgery. Looking ahead, she predicts more physicians will seek and find safe, effective options that not only help women recover but lower the risk of addiction. “As health care providers, we must think about the way we manage pain and provide our patients with options, including opioid alternatives, to help achieve optimal recovery,” she continues. “Over the next decade, I expect to see female patients having a more active voice in their treatment plans and requesting options other than opioids to manage their pain.”
There will be less stigma around the conception process and tools for conception
Though it isn’t the rosiest stat to Tweet, the facts don’t like: one in four couples will struggle to conceive. Whether due to the mother’s genetics, the father’s, or a mix of the two, Brown says this once hush-hush experience will become a more frequent topic of conversation. How come? Couples (or hopeful single parents) will not feel ashamed by their infertility experience, and rather, want to help others in their journey, too. “I predict that there will be less stigma around seeking alternative methods for conception and finding help when things don’t go as planned in the bedroom. In the future, people will understand that no matter how your baby was made, it was made with a whole lotta love. And that is something to be celebrated,” she adds.
More research studies will include women
Though women are increasingly represented in research studies, gender bias remains a problem in science and medicine as subjects. Dr. Donese Worden, a board-certified physician, researcher, and continuing medical educator predicts that science will adapt their methods to be more egalitarian over the next ten years. Not only is this important from a sexism perspective but to improve the quality of science, too. After all, there are many factors that differentiate women from men, including body size, body fat distribution, and hormonal levels. “These can affect how drugs are metabolized and could make some drugs not work or not work as well,” she continues. “Some drugs may not work similarly in women as in men. Different drugs and drug dosages according to gender is a more individualized and precise way of administering medicines, and the more studies we have proving these differences will help with women’s overall health.”