2022 was a year for the history books – the impact of Roe v. Wade being overturned will be felt for years to come in and outside of the United States. As we head into 2023, we asked Dr. Elina Berglund Scherwitzl, Co-founder and Co-CEO of Natural Cycles to share her thoughts about the decision’s impact on the women’s health industry as well as her company’s 2022 highlights and plans for the upcoming year.
The end of another year at Natural Cycles… What were some of your personal highlights and lowlights at the company?
2022 has been such an eventful and exciting year for Natural Cycles! One major highlight was the launch of our integration with the smart-ring company Oura, making it possible for Natural Cycles users to track their temperature trends automatically while they sleep if they don’t want to use a manual thermometer. It’s truly a first-of-its-kind experience and a promising next step for the future of birth control. We’ve also launched quite a few features, all tailored to our users’ wishes. Users have the ability to share their fertility status and other data with their partners, family, or friends using our Partner View, and we recently launched a special Recovery Mode to help women as they recover mentally and physically from a miscarriage. Our goal has always been to be there for our users at every point during their fertility journey, and with all of the upgrades we’ve made this year, we’re not only one, but several steps closer to that goal.
Looking back, working together with our amazing (and growing!) team has been the absolute highlight of my year. So much has happened in this short period of time – and it’s the result of smart, competent, and passionate people coming together, creating value for women. It’s an understatement to say that I’m excited about what’s coming next!
In terms of lowlights, it’s clear that while there’s been great progress made within the Women’s Health industry, there’s still a lot to be done. It feels like we often take three steps forward but two steps back. The overturning of Roe v. Wade in the United States was certainly a pivotal moment but I do think that there was some good that came out of it – including that women began to ask important questions around how their data is being used. In 2023 and beyond, the importance of understanding how your sensitive data is being shared is only going to become increasingly important.
Has the overturning of Roe vs Wade impacted your business?
The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision sparked an important debate about data security, and as a tech company handling sensitive data, we were of course part of this conversation. We have always maintained a very high level of privacy protection and we continuously monitor our security measures to ensure we do everything in our power to keep our users and their data safe. In 2023, we will begin testing our identity protection functionality – an additional layer on top of our existing protection – which is part of a comprehensive privacy program called NC° Secure.
I also must say that following the overturning of Roe vs. Wade, our mission to pioneer women’s health and empower women to take charge of their own health feels more important than ever. I’m proud that we are able to provide an over-the-counter non-hormonal birth control method to the many women seeking a natural way of preventing pregnancy.
In what ways so you think the digital health or reproductive health industry has changed this year?
It’s of course impossible to speak about the reproductive health space in 2022 without mentioning the overturning of Roe vs. Wade and I believe that the impact will be felt for years to come in and outside of the United States. The reproductive health climate is ever-changing, and this year, an already “risky” industry became even riskier. I say that because when it comes to women’s health – and particularly anything that has to do with unintended pregnancies – there’s never been a foolproof solution. Unintended pregnancies will always happen – it’s an unfortunate reality. While startups have been forced to embrace these risks, large, established companies have tried to stay away. But for any company who wants to help women in the post-Roe v. Wade world, they are going to have no choice.
What are some industry trends you’re looking forward to or concerned about in 2023?
In 2023, we may see the dollar amount invested in women’s health – particularly digital health companies – decrease year over year. This will be a reflection of the growth over the last few years combined with the global economic situation and the higher risk companies will have to take on given the overturning of Roe v. Wade. But, this decrease in funding is not a reflection of how crucial innovation within the field of women’s health is and I believe the dip will be short term.
With all of the investment being made over the last few years, so many new products have been launched, and with any booming industry, you have to take the good with the bad. I know that every time I go on Instagram I’m inundated with fertility products – many of which have not been evaluated or proven to work – so I do think many of these products that don’t have scientific evidence to support them will no longer exist by year’s end. This is partly due to the economic situation, but more so, because with all of the “good” products out there and amazing innovation, women will have less tolerance for products that have not been properly evaluated. They’ll choose the better products.
You’ve been using temperature as a biomarker for a while and activity in this area is definitely picking up. What are some use cases beyond prediction or ovulation you or others are working on? Is there research you’re excited about?
Temperature has always been a useful indicator of what’s happening inside the body – beyond a fever. We’ve been using body temperature to confirm ovulation for almost 10 years now, and I’m excited to see other companies – as well as more healthcare professionals – starting to embrace the important role body temperature plays beyond fertility. While we will keep building our product, our focus on fertility and reproductive health will remain. However, we are actively working on improving and expanding the number of hardware options by looking at alternative ways of obtaining temperature data. With health tracking tools becoming more advanced by the minute, I see a number of exciting opportunities ahead!