Women face a unique set of obstacles when seeking treatment for not only chronic illness, but also healthcare in general. For example, most physicians and the general public are well-versed in common heart attack symptoms for men, without having a complete understanding of the more nuanced heart attack symptoms that can be present in women. As a result, women are more likely to be misdiagnosed and discharged from care while they are actually suffering from their number one leading cause of death. Women often receive less aggressive treatments for their ailments and resulting pain. Their reports of pain or medical issues are more often shrugged off by healthcare providers than those of male patients. Women are more likely to receive a sedative prescription instead of pain medication prescriptions. Women also statistically wait longer to receive an analgesic for acute abdominal pain in the ER in the United States.
The gap in healthcare quality only increases for women of color, when medical misconceptions about skin color also come into play. These disparities are associated with worse health outcomes for patients. You may have witnessed these unconscious imbalances in the healthcare system as a professional in the industry. Perhaps on a personal level, you or loved ones have experienced this gap in care as a patient-- in an everyday scenario, or even in an emergency situation like this story.
How can we address this inequity?
Increase awareness and understanding of the issue
The first step in treating an illness is recognizing the symptoms. Similarly, the first step to solving any inequality in healthcare is acknowledging the issue. The imbalance in healthcare is not any one healthcare provider’s problem--it is our responsibility as a community to recognize, research, and treat the problem
As individuals working in healthcare, we need to shift along with the entire system. One way to fight the implicit biases that play into healthcare comes down to treating each patient as a completely individual case. Grouping all female patients, or all minority patients, or all patients of a certain weight, age, or other category for efficiency’s sake may backfire when it comes to treatment.
- Support diversity in healthcare providers
- Diversity in the healthcare workforce, particularly ethnic diversity, has been well-correlated with the quality of care to minority populations. While many public and private health institutions are currently working on improving diversity as well as implementing cultural competence programs among employees, full development of these efforts will contribute to an improvement in the health of all Americans.
Focus philanthropic and innovative efforts on health equity
Providence health system recently announced the Providence National Foundation, which will fund programs and services that will improve access to high-quality healthcare, specifically for vulnerable groups and communities. While not every healthcare company or individual can launch a foundation that raises millions of dollars for healthcare innovations, we certainly can uplift others who are doing so.