Fierce JPM Week: Women are the 'power buyers' of healthcare. Here's how startups are striving to serve them

Women are the "power buyers" of healthcare, controlling about 80% of the healthcare spend in the U.S., which is a nearly $4 trillion industry.

Women's health is now in the spotlight, and investors have been quick to put their cash into this growing market.

Digital health startups focused on women's health care pulled in $1.3 billion in funding across 26 deals by October 2021—nearly doubling all of 2020's funding with four months still left to go, according to digital health venture fund Rock Health.

"You have to have blinders on, quite frankly, if you're not understanding that dynamic and where the trend line is going," said healthcare investor Lynne Chou O'Keefe, founder and managing partner at Define Ventures, during a Fierce JPM Week panel discussion.

"The question now is how do we now truly expand the definition of what is women's health? I think that's all our healthcare," O'Keefe said.

O'Keefe's venture capital firm has invested in several innovative startups, like Tia and Hims & Hers, offering new models of care that deliver an integrated experience to women.

Tia, a startup building what it calls a "modern medical home for women," secured a hefty $100 million funding round in September, marking one of the largest series B investments ever for a healthcare company focused on women, according to the company.

RELATED: Hims & Hers making its mark in teledermatology with Apostrophe acquisition

Women's health is no longer niche, said Carolyn Witte, co-founder and CEO at Tia. "We're not cutting out 50% of the population, but rather building a personalized care delivery model for the most powerful, yet underserved customer in healthcare who controls 80% of the dollars," she said.

As women's health startups continue to see strong growth, more investment dollars going into the market help put women's health needs on the map, Witte said during the discussion.

"But it's still a drop in the bucket. Only 5% of digital health dollars are going into women's health, and even fewer of those dollars are going into R&D for new products, new services and research focused explicitly on the needs of women," she said.

What does the future of women's health look like?

The next wave of innovation in women's health needs to focus on moving the needle on outcomes. To do that, startups and providers need to create care models that shift from specific body parts or reproductive life stages and siloed care to care for the whole person, Witte said.

Providers also need to connect the dots between places of care as healthcare adopts a more hybrid model. "The future of healthcare for women and for families is not just Zoom or just in a real-world clinic; it's video, it's chat, it's a clinic, it's the hospital, it's at home," she said.

Startups and providers also need to focus on providing personalized and culturally tailored solutions for a diverse swath of women that address social determinants of health and systemic racism in the healthcare system, she mentioned.

"Focusing on these three areas will enable us to shift from women's health being on the map to women's health actually working better," she added.

RELATED: Tia clinches $100M to build out clinics, virtual care as investors bank on women's health startups

As women are the "gatekeepers" to their families' healthcare spending, there is an opportunity to expand women's health to encompass community health, O'Keefe said.

"As we think about the social determinants of health, which determine 60% of your healthcare outcomes, these are things such as food security and housing. Women are the influencers and power buyers in making those decisions for their families as well as their communities," she said.

As women's health startups aim to redefine healthcare for a digitally native consumer, there also is an opportunity to partner with traditional brick-and-mortar healthcare providers, said Hilary Coles, co-founder and senior vice president of brand and innovation at Hims & Hers, a consumer telehealth and wellness brand.

"[These startups] are extremely talented, honestly, at bringing in new people into the healthcare system who would never have engaged with the healthcare system before," she said, noting Hims & Hers' partnerships with providers like Ochsner and Privia Health.

"I think that there's a real awareness now from the traditional healthcare players that what existed before wasn't sustainable. And there's an awareness that they were not going to be able to get, frankly, any of this generation to engage and go through the front door with them. So, I'm excited about that further kind of collaboration," Coles said.

"I think we're going into a stage of branded networks," said O'Keefe, "where a consumer will go into a Hims & Hers or a Tia and then get referred to more a traditional health system player and then refer back. That brand experience is going to be incredibly important."

RELATED: Women's digital health rakes in $1.3B in 2021 buoyed by investor interest in more integrated care

On the immediate horizon

Looking ahead, Coles, O'Keefe and Witte expect more M&A in the women's health market and a shift from point solutions to more comprehensive platforms that address a broader range of health needs for women and their families.

Hims & Hers expanded into primary care and mental health services last year. The company also is looking to go deeper in areas it's already in, Coles said, pointing to the recent acquisition of Apostrophe to provide more dermatology services.

Tia is focused on scaling and opening more clinics as part of its virtually integrated model, Witte said. "We're expanding to further support women throughout their lives, and we call this 'whole-woman, whole-life-care' with a big focus on pregnancy in that postpartum period. This year especially, we're going be hearing more from Tia about what we're doing there to fill in the biggest gaps in care."

Check out the Fierce JPM Week interview for more insights from Coles, Witte and O'Keefe about M&A in the women's health market, more funding and the role of technology.