By Julie Washington The Plain Dealer, Cleveland
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Women's need for reproductive medicine makes them a large slice of the health care industry, and female entrepreneurs are creating and investing in digital health companies that offer unique services for women.
When Ob/Gyns ask, "When was your last period?" many women answer by reaching for their smartphone and calling up an app.
Period-tracking apps such as Glow, Eve and others are increasingly used by women who like getting a digital heads-up about when their next cycle is due.
It's all part of the digital health trend that gives consumers ways to monitor body functions from a smartphone, Fitbit or other device. And many of the app companies have women leaders and investors.
The period-tracking app Clue reportedly has more than 5 million users worldwide.
Alma Olson, director of student health services at the University of Akron, said about 80 percent of her female patients use a period-tracking app.
"They're able to get to know their bodies a lot better," Olson said. "For that reason, I think (the apps) are awesome."
These apps predict monthly cycles by asking the user to input data about her periods.
Some apps also track the number of days between periods, predict and let the user make notes about cramps or other symptoms.
Over time, as the apps collect more information, they are supposed to become more accurate.
They are used by women trying to get pregnant, avoid getting pregnant although not fool-proof, understand their moods and know ahead of time if Aunt Flo's visit will coincide with a big work presentation or beach vacation.
"I use it mostly so I'm not caught off guard," said Ella Shurr, 40, of University Heights. She began using a period tracker because she wanted data about her irregular periods to show her doctor. She tried jotting information in a notebook, but it was never handy when she needed it.
"I can just go to the app and (mark that) it started," said Shurr, who works as a library assistant at Case Western Reserve University. The app sends her an alert a few days before her cycle's scheduled arrival.
"It's pretty accurate for telling me, hey! It's gonna start soon!" she said.
Shurr has found her period tracker to be accurate, but research conducted at the University of Washington found that many popular apps often aren't accurate for women with irregular cycles.
The apps also don't adjust for changes in menstrual patterns caused by pregnancy, breastfeeding or the onset of menopause, the study's researchers said. The findings were recently presented at a conference in Denver, according to the online health magazine Stat.
That lack of absolute accuracy also means that attempting to use the ovulation-predicting feature for birth control is risky. "It's not a really good family planning (method) at all," Olson said.
Women's need for reproductive medicine makes them a large slice of the health care industry, and female entrepreneurs are creating and investing in digital health companies that offer services for women, according to a 2016 article by Bloomberg.
Consider Jennifer Wong, founder and CEO of Alt12 Apps LLC, which offers the period tracking app Pink Pad. Wong's pregnancy inspired her to explore how mobile technology could be used for health needs, according to a statement on the company's website.
Alt12 Apps, based in San Francisco, has more than 7 million downloads with 1.3 million active users each month, according to the company's website. "(Wong's) goal is to make healthy living fun by bringing delightful elements into people's lives every single day," the website said.
Clue, a digital health startup based in Berlin, Germany, was launched in 2013 and claims a spot among the fastest-growing period, PMS, fertility and ovulation tracking apps.
In September, the company released a new feature, Clue Connect, which allows app users to share information about their cycles with partners, friends and family, according a company statement.
"Many women told us that they wanted to share their cycles with their partners, and men told us they wanted to better understand and support the women in their lives," said Clue CEO Ida Tin, who co-founded the company with her long-term partner, Hans Raffauf, in the statement. "We listened to their feedback and built Clue Connect to help those people create closer relationships."
Clue Connect and other period-tracking apps point to a societal change in women's attitudes toward menstruation. In the past, women treated their periods as a shameful secret, but today's college students have no problems talking about it openly, Olson said.
And that includes having a period-tracking app on their phones next to the icons for Uber or Instagram. "These women are more comfortable with their bodies early on," Olson said.