In 2023, Women’s Health Is Still Shockingly Underserved
For far too long, women’s health issues have been underfunded, under researched and underserved. Women’s health is an issue that affects not only women themselves, but also their families, communities, and the broader society. Leading up to International Women’s Day on March 8, Hello Alpha is challenging the healthcare ecosystem — including employers and patients themselves — to finally evolve beyond treating women’s health as an afterthought.
Today’s women rightly have high expectations for their healthcare experience, and instead of transactional, anonymous providers, they demand a dedicated care team that provides personalized care accounting for gender-specific needs and the relationship between mental and physical health. This is the level of care that women are clamoring for — and that they deserve.
Despite women making up half of the world’s population, women’s health continues to suffer from gender bias. Historically, medical research and clinical trials have focused primarily on men, and the results have been extrapolated to women. This approach fails to take into account the biological and physiological differences between men and women, which can result in misdiagnosis, incorrect treatment, and adverse health outcomes. For example, women are more likely to have heart attack symptoms that are not as commonly recognized, like nausea or unexplained fatigue. These less familiar symptoms, combined with the world being trained primarily on men’s symptoms, cause delays in receiving critical care. With a narrow window of time for optimal treatment — within a few hours of a heart attack — that delay has a deadly impact. Women and healthcare providers alike may not recognize symptoms of a heart attack and healthcare providers are also more likely to downplay symptoms or delay treatment. These nuances between genders make it absolutely vital to continue gender-competent health education for providers and patients alike.
This disparity was demonstrated even recently with Paxlovid and the COVID pandemic. The clinical trials that enabled Paxlovid to receive its emergency use authorization showed that participants were 89% less likely to develop severe illness and death, however, people who were pregnant weren’t among the study participants. Pregnancy is now known to be a condition placing patients at risk of severe COVID-19 disease and more recent research shows that the benefit to both the parent and the developing fetus of preventing severe COVID outweighs any potential risks from Paxlovid therapy. Providers that don’t keep up with the latest data may not know this and thus are not in the position to adequately treat pregnant people with COVID.
Women’s health is complex and multifaceted — and heavily impacted by the cultural, social, and political attitudes towards women. Historically, stigma and shame associated with women’s reproductive health significantly contributed to the underserved nature of women’s general health. For example, in 1930, according to the Guttmacher Institute, illegal abortion was the cause of death for almost one out of every five recorded maternal deaths that year.
Women are often paid less than men and are more likely to work part-time or in jobs without benefits, making it more challenging for them to access healthcare services. This can result in women delaying or forgoing medical care, which can lead to untreated health conditions and poorer health outcomes.
The consequences of neglecting women’s health are significant. Women don’t often want to delay seeking the medical care they need, but it’s an unfortunate reality for many Americans due to inaccessible and expensive care. Women who do not receive adequate health care are more likely to experience complications during pregnancy and childbirth, as well as chronic health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. They are also more likely to experience mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety, which can impact their quality of life and ability to function in their daily lives.
Neglecting women’s health also has a ripple effect on families and communities. Women are often the primary caregivers for children and elderly family members, and their health status directly impacts the well-being of those they care for. When women’s health is neglected, it can lead to increased healthcare costs, lost productivity, and increased social and economic inequalities.
Hello Alpha treats all patients, and specializes in holistic women’s health because the U.S.’s medical institutions were built around a standard of care for young, able-bodied men. As a result, disparities persist in the quality of care that women, gender non-conforming individuals, and historically marginalized communities receive.
Surprising, and grim, stats regarding women’s health:
- 14% of women aged 18+ are in fair or poor health
- 42% of women aged 20+ are obese
- 45% of women aged 20+ have high blood pressure
- 80% of women with chronic pain report experiencing some form of gender discrimination from their health care providers
- Women and minorities are 30% more likely to be misdiagnosed
- Women ages 18 to 44 are twice as likely as men to develop an anxiety disorder
- Only 9% of medical schools offer women’s health courses
- The three leading causes of death since 2021 for women are heart disease, cancer and COVID-19
Women’s health is an issue that deserves more attention and resources. Addressing the root causes of neglecting women’s health, including gender bias in the healthcare system, reproductive health stigma, and economic barriers to accessing healthcare, is crucial to ensuring that women receive the care they need to lead healthy, productive lives. By investing in women’s health, we can improve the well-being of individuals, families, and communities, and create a more equitable and just society.