Doing Female Health

You know what’s wrong, unequal, distorted: Here are four design challenges to actually do something about it.

Christopher Böhnke is Managing Director and Accenture Song Design Lead in DACH.

Do you know this feeling: the first seven horrible days after transatlantic travel? 

Your people are excited to see you. But you just want to sleep. You don’t want to disappoint them. 

So, you just eat when and what they eat. You get up when they get up. You do what you think is normal in this context. People treat you like they believe is normal. You are glad when the jetlag ends. Sounds familiar? 

Well, it is familiar – but to 50% of people on this planet, no matter where they are. They have never travelled further than their office, let alone left the country. They are female. And the worst part: it never seems to end. 

Before we start, let us agree on what you already knew. This is not about activism or awareness. You knew that research underrepresents females in medical studies. You are aware that they wait 8 full years on average to be diagnosed with endometriosis. Often, doctors underdiagnose females because their pain, stress, and moods all seem to be minor problems, not worthy of consideration. Because many of their symptoms seem to fit a familiar – well studied for male individuals – diagnosis, the wrong treatment is given. 

All of the above is well documented today. Medicine sees the reproductive organs and hormone levels of females as the greatest source of difference between males and females. Everything else must be the same. It is not. But if it is that obvious, why don’t we fix it? 

Moving to doing female health 

  • Time zones
  • Life choices
  • The balance of normal
  • Awareness of – not about — females

These are the four themes that can change the way we do healthcare for females. 

They are not meant to rattle the cage, but to design holistic, integrated, and actionable solutions. 

The reality of the female cycle

Is it your special day?! This is, cross-culturally, still one of the most demeaning questions to females today. And, perversely, it is an important question rarely asked by physicians sincerely: What day is it for you? Our society does not widely acknowledge the reality of the female menstrual cycle. We use the 24-hour male cycle of testosterone, instead. We start work when it’s high, we end it when it lowers. We heat rooms to suit the body temperature of the reference man.

But what if we would ask females what day it is – for them individually? What if doctors, digital health services, insurance prevention plans, bosses, and colleagues cared about your current moment in the four-week phases of females’ menstrual cycle? We need to reset the clocks of healthcare.

Start with the time zone of the patient. Design for the known moments of risk, pain, impacts on mood and even knee injury likelihood – all driven by their hormonal mix of that moment. We should not design period trackers just for fertility or its prevention. We should personalize pathways for healthcare based on the individual female time zone at hand.

Design health for unique choices

So, we could meet in the right time zone. But can we also design health for unique choices?

  • To become pregnant or not.
  • To focus on an uninterrupted career or not.
  • To choose to become female.
  • To proactively plan for well-being in all phases of a female’s life.

Studies have shown that the mere act of planning has a positive impact on female health. Yet, many of the above choices seem to be driven by societal norms, not personal choice.

Our own research indicates that many females try to understand what is expected and do that, rather than explore the consequences of their own choices. And they receive little help. In fact, they do not trust insurances and other institutions to help them. If we want to design for female health, we need to design for choices. Health services, institutions, and employers need to present options without assumptions. And we need to create pathways for each of them – not only for what is considered the usual, the “normal”.

The problem with normal

Because here is another problem with normal. It is normal to have workout applications to stay in “good shape”. It is normal to have nutrition support to “eat right”. It is normal to track sleep to “be ready for the day”. At the same time, females are often told that what they feel like does not fit that ”normal”. Let us call out the truth: many females do not know about the details of their cycle phases. Studies and treatments do not focus on females because of the complexity of hormonal balance.

To design for female health means to help address hormones. Workout services could help balance the shifting hormonal impact on feeling well as well as managing their impact on possible injuries. Nutrition support is able to address issues many females face along their cycles. Sleep tracking could benefit long-term mental health issue prevention in light of the cycle. If we design for female health, we need to design for lifestyle impact on hormonal balance. Instead of what is normal we should support what is beneficial – and maybe not yet a factor that the female individual is aware of. 

The means of awareness of female health

Breast cancer, genital cancer, thyroid diseases, endometriosis and many more – we are becoming aware of the significant impact of female diseases not only on the individuals but the cost of the healthcare system. We are now, finally, paying more attention to female health. But are we providing the means for wider awareness of health in females? We all have heard the word menopause. We are aware of it as a fact of female life, yet society stigmatizes it. But here is something you might not know: before menopause, female bodies shield themselves from many cardiovascular diseases with their hormones. When this shifts during menopause, their risk of disease skyrockets. Many women receive no insight into this at the time it happens, and what they need to change in their lifestyle to mitigate these risks.

And now let’s think again: stop considering menopause as a condition. So, do we really design for awareness? Do we really support women in the prevention of actual conditions, if we do not even do it for what’s, in reality, a universal phase of life? We need to design for integrated, holistic prevention in female health. The key to prevention is access and ease of adoption.

Today, digitally as well as in traditional healthcare options we separate by treatment area. Several different doctor visits, and multiple applications – the silos of our medical system multiply the effects of time zone, lack of life choices, and the perception of normal. To enable prevention for females we need to provide an angle that delivers the polar opposite of stigmatization and simplifies the overwhelming number of things to do.  

Think of time zones, life choices, balancing normal and awareness for prevention. And let’s do female health right today.