Most women’s health apps are terrible. And combined, they make for a very poor experience.
I know that’s a big statement but it’s also a big truth. Somehow, in a world where there’s an app for every shitty little thing nobody should ever want to do, they’re almost all better than women’s health apps. And it’s not exclusively because men are involved in the making of most women’s health apps. It’s mostly because it apparently pays more to make shitty little apps that solve shitty little problems, than make something that is actually life changing.
I’m mad because this is personal. And if you’re squeamish about lady part issues, you might want to stop reading because this story has some lady part references.
I am a smart, career-driven woman in my 30s and have lived with PCOS and a genetic predisposition to developing uterine fibroids for most of my adult life. I have a better relationship with my gynaecologist than I do with some of my co-workers. I know my colleagues read this, so I am not inclined to tell you some of the more gory stories but believe you me, I’ve had some scary ones and not seldom. I deal because that’s what smart, career-driven women do. But I also work in tech and have always profoundly believed that tech is here to help. Well, it did not help me and my health at all.
I can say that because for the past 10 years I have tried to identify an ecosystem of apps that would make living with my problems easier, more manageable, more reassuring. There isn’t one.
a) Fertility apps — just the name tells you there’s a problem. I did not want to have kids when these problems started, and most period trackers out there are actually designed to lead you smoothly into a pregnancy. But that is not what most women want at most times. Trying to get pregnant is something that might be one some women’s minds but not all. And it’s infuriating that baby-making takes precedence over a normal life. So there’s a positioning problem. I want to track my sexual health first and foremost.
Secondly, most trackers assume you’re a perfectly healthy 28 yo. They do not work for teenagers, they do not work for women with problems, like me, they do not work for older women who are perimenopausal (I know because I have a friend who basically tried everything out there and then resigned herself to being an always-confused-early-menopause lady). They only work for women with standard coordinates who are happy to receive standard answers. Unless stuff is absolutely perfect, most apps will encourage you to see a doctor. That’s about all they do.
Thirdly, they also make absolutely NO sense unless you’re willing to do a LOT of digging about medical terminology, and they explain or predict absolutely nothing. I have been tracking myself with the same app for the past 5 years and 5 years later, after countless logs of spotting between periods because of my condition, it still says stuff like “you’ve been spotting for 4 days in a row, you need to see a doctor”. I have seen a doctor! Many doctors actually and I know what I have, but there is no way for me to track the reality of my situation with any app. All it does is make me freak out about something I know I have to live with.
Finally, tracker apps have moved from speaking like bad doctors to speaking like stupid teenagers. From asking about cervical position or BBT to ranking the type of sex you’ve had as “tha bomb” or just 👏. The first instance would make any normal woman feel inappropriate. One of the key issues with women’s sexual health is people feel weird about talking about it, most doctors are vague, women do not have enough information, forums are teeming with personal idiosyncrasies. We need a simple straightforward language for these things. Why not make a tracker that explains in simple terms what the heck you REALLY need to track.
Made by men or not, fertility/tracker apps are shit. That’s the end of it.
2) Fitness and dieting apps — again, they are all meant to track people with absolutely standard responses and have no way of communicating with any other apps that track anything else. Health is a holistic issue. If you’re suffering from some chronic condition — PCOS is chronic, BTW — that influences your diet and exercise regimen. I have yet to see a fitness app that considers your medical history as part of your fitness program. Someone in my situation should be doing a certain type of core exercises and eating a certain type of diet. There’s no way for me to organise that using my women’s health apps.
3) Service apps — finally, and this is where the “sci-fi” part comes in, there’s a host of things that would make my life easier beyond the sheer organisation of tracking my symptoms, diet and fitness. Simpler, bulk delivery of sanitary products, a faster way to connect with my doctor or share with him my tracking history, a place to store my doctor’s notes. These are, however, just things we put in presentations to clients to say “look at the brave new world we could be building”. We never do build them. There’s a damned shaving club that delivers shavers to men, but there is no such thing for women’s sanitary stuff. Most offices do not have emergency pads in the toilets. I have to carry around a folder of all my scans and doctor’s notes just in case have a “situation” and need to see someone other than my regular gyno.
If apps are here to simply support those who do not need help, what the hell are we doing? Are we just building a huge data-gathering machine so we can serve ads to people? That’s horribly sad.
I started thinking of a better women’s health app 4 years back. It was aimed at women who did not want to have kids immediately, did not have a perfect body, needed to track a condition alongside a normal lifestyle of fitness and diets and were willing to share this info with their close ones (because believe you me, it’s hard to hide all of this from your partner forever). Maybe I should look into that again.