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The Current Health Care System Does Not Serve Women Well

Transforming Primary Health Care for Women is the title of two recent reports published by The Commonwealth Fund. Both authored by Laurie Zephyrin, Lisa Suennen, Pavitra Viswanathan, Jared Augenstein, and Deborah Bachrach, the first examines the gaps in primary health care for women, revealing that despite the importance of primary care for women, the current system “underperforms” and that women have “unique challenges” when it comes to receiving effective care. The second identifies what health care systems can do to better meet the needs of women.

The Importance of Primary Care and Women’s Health

The authors make clear that patients who have primary care providers are, indeed, healthier. “Regions that have more primary health care providers are associated with lower rates of hospitalization, cancer mortality, heart disease, and stroke.” The emphasis on preventative care is a key benefit of having a primary care provider. So, too, is the focus on developing a relationship between the patient and the PCP.

The authors point out that a women’s health links directly to the health of her family and the economy. As caregivers for children and relatives, and as workers (often essential) outside the home, women play a vital role in society. Thus, ensuring women have access to health care that is responsive to them regardless of their age, race or ethnicity, or socioeconomic status, will benefit society.

Barriers for Women

The studies identified numerous ways the present healthcare system prevents women from getting care.

Insufficient training that addresses gender issues suggests that primary care providers are not well-equipped to address women’s healthcare needs at the various stages of their lives. Along these lines, clinical guidelines do not always account for gender differences. Thus, it’s perhaps not surprising that women underutilize their PCP, opting for their ob/gyn or an urgent care clinic for their care, or delaying or ignoring their health. Given that PCPs “are well suited to effectively coordinate care across specialty, ancillary, and social services throughout a woman’s life,” not having one is certainly a missed opportunity.

Furthermore, the health care delivery system does not serve the needs of women. This problem is partially due to the lack of women in the healthcare industry and medical academia, which leads to further underrepresentation in studies and policies for women. These problems also lead to the design of systems that don’t necessarily serve women. An 11- 15-minute office visit, which is considered typical, does not allow for comprehensive conversation, relationship-building, or trust. When gender-bias gets factored in, women often feel unheard, as if their complaints are dismissed (which is often true). These issues are exacerbated along racial and ethnic lines. These studies also found that women who lack insurance often do not get necessary health screenings such as mammograms, Pap tests, and colon cancer screenings. These screenings are important, as they can lead to early diagnosis and treatment of potentially curable conditions.

Solutions

The authors of these reports identify several ways to address the shortcomings of the current system. The first step is improving training, so that PCPs are more knowledgeable about the unique needs of women, and so they can provide high quality “sex-specific,” “sex-aware,” and “gender-sensitive” care to women.

Most importantly, visits should address women’s health needs based on the stage of life they are in. “Providers can create a trusting environment for open dialogue and empower women to ask informed questions and make decisions about their care.”

The ability to deliver comprehensive care in a safe and supportive setting is key. Healthcare teams that work together to respond to women’s needs in an integrated way allow women to get the care they need. “Creating primary health care teams that include multidisciplinary providers and providers with women’s health expertise can help to ensure that women’s needs are comprehensively and cost-effectively addressed in a timely fashion.”

To improve access for women, healthcare providers should consider offering care as conveniently as possible. This could include locating clinics near workplaces or schools, as well as having appointments before and after business hours and on weekends. Technology can also help by providing women opportunities to engage in video visits, electronic messaging, and monitoring that extend beyond the in-person visit.

These large-scale changes will require coordinated efforts of clinical leaders and policy makers, but the results will be well worth it.

The Eisen Law Firm and Women’s Health Issues

At The Eisen Law Firm, we stay on top of current issues in women’s healthcare and patient safety. While we are happy to help you with your medical malpractice or birth injury case, we firmly believe that preventing medical errors and patient safety is also critically important. That is why Brian Eisen became the first lawyer in Ohio board certified as Patient Safety Advocate.

If you need our help, just call us at (216) 687-0900 or contact us online today.