Why 50/50 gender representation matters in healthcare
When women are under-represented in health care, half of the world’s population becomes at risk.
If you’re a woman reading this, there’s a good chance you’ve had that sinking feeling you get when you sit in your doctor’s office expressing your concerns, but you don’t feel heard. The sad truth is, you are not alone. Women are routinely under-represented in all areas of healthcare, from medical research to emergency rooms, putting half of the world’s population at risk.
Numerous studies over the years show that women are less likely than men to receive more advanced diagnostic and therapeutic interventions. Historically, this disparity is due, in part, to inadequate medical research that does not take into account the biology of women.
âWhen male and female patients tell their stories, healthcare professionals are inclined to interpret even identical stories in different ways due to preconceived notions and assumptions about men and women, known as implicit gender bias. What is even more disturbing is that doctors are more likely to interpret men’s symptoms as organic and women’s symptoms as psychosocial, and female patients are given a more non-specific symptom diagnosis, âaccording to (Hamberg – Women’s health – 2008).
Gender disparities and gender bias in clinical practice
Gender bias occurs when there is a preference for one gender over another based on beliefs or generalizations. This preference can lead to a negative assessment of a person based on irrelevant characteristics such as race or gender. Gender disparities in clinical practice result from the unintentional, unconscious, or implied bias that occurs when an individual attributes certain stereotypical attitudes or biases about health, behavior, experiences, needs and wants to another person or to a group of people, according to BMC Medical Ethics. Gender and cultural stereotypes may not be intentional, however, their very existence influences how information about an individual is processed. This leads to unintentional bias in decision making.
Implicit bias among health professionals
Physicians must follow evidence-based concepts of medicine and meet performance goals to provide high-quality medical treatment at all times. However, failing to recognize and address their own biases impairs a supplier’s ability to meet this commitment.
“To achieve the goal of providing impartial care, healthcare professionals must be wary of any type of negative assessment they make that is related to membership in a group or a particular characteristic,” according to a study conducted by (FitzGerald and Hurst – BMC Medical Ãthique – 2017).
Such implicit biases lead to disparities in the care patients receive and operate to the detriment of those who are already vulnerable. According to a study by the Institute of Medicine, these disparities are caused by a variety of sources, including personal biases, prejudices and stereotypes on the part of healthcare workers.
“The mere existence of cultural stereotypes about social groups (eg women, men, blacks, whites) can influence the behavior and judgment of individuals in this stereotypical group,” according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information.
Evidence-Based Bias Reduction Strategies
Implicit biases among healthcare providers impact clinical decision-making in ways that perpetuate healthcare disparities and put patients at risk. Twenty of twenty-five hypothesis studies found evidence of bias in the number of patient questions, number of tests ordered, diagnosis, or treatment recommendations, as reported by BMC Med Ethics. Provider behavior has been identified as a major contributor to disparities in health care.
âUnconscious biases are ‘habits of mind’, learned over time through repeated personal experiences and cultural socialization; they’re very resistant to change, âaccording to the Journal of General Internal Medicine.
Implicit gender biases among health care providers have been shown to persist from the onset of medical education and play a role in gender disparities in hiring, advancement and pay as they go along. as physicians’ careers progress, according to the Journal of the Canadian Medical Association. A critical first step in closing the gender gap in healthcare is to diversify recruitment efforts and invest in programs that incorporate evidence-based strategies and reduce bias for medical trainees and physicians. in exercise.
Such programs are designed to prevent unconscious attitudes and stereotypes that negatively influence the conduct and outcomes of clinical encounters. However, successful implementation is not enough. The development of standardized indicators and audits is necessary to achieve structural integration of gender equality in clinical practice.
Despite numerous studies and surveys over the years into gender bias and gender disparities in health care, inadequate treatment of women and incorrect diagnoses continue to be regularly reported even today. Improving the representation of women in healthcare and especially in health technology provides women with the space to drive discovery and innovation, address disparities and provide role models for the next generation of women scientists.
At Lin Health, we deliver care that is hyper-aware of gender biases in the pain space. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 56% of people with long-term pain are female – and yet only 36.3% of health care providers are female according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. Women come to us every day with both severe physical pain and all too often an extra layer of pain caused by the involuntary and gender insensitive way they have been treated by the medical system. At Lin, we have a care team that is deliberately predominantly female. We provide a team that is trained to listen to our members’ language on pain and match our voice to theirs. By reversing the statistics on caregiver gender biases and creating a culture of listening to reduce caregiver biases, we are ahead of the pack. At Lin, we have high hopes that the medical establishment, at least in this regard, will catch up very soon.
Dr. Abigail Hirsch is the Founder and CPO of Lin Health, a technology leader in the burgeoning health technology industry.