Revolutionizing Women’s Health: A Mini-Series
As consultants and researchers, Incite’s Health team see first-hand the experience of patients and Healthcare Providers. From this perspective, it’s easy to recognise the advances that have been made in women’s healthcare in recent years. However it’s equally clear that many critical challenges still remain and must be addressed.
Identifying, understanding and helping to address those challenges has become a point of passion for the team. So, starting this week, our Health team are launching a series of articles here and through our LinkedIn posts looking at this topic in detail.
And we’re inviting our client-side and agency counterparts to join us in that mission.
“Let’s unite in our commitment to reshape the future of women’s healthcare and pharma research”
– Sarah Cooper, Senior Associate, Incite Health
We believe healthcare and pharma research can play a part in better serving women, but the first step is to learn about and raise awareness of the many issues currently facing women in healthcare and beyond.
In this first entry in the series, Sarah will be outlining five of the key issues and the questions we think the sector needs to answer. And in the weeks to come will be diving into those issues in detail.
If you want to get involved or to hear more, get in touch today.
Women’s health has come a long way, thanks to advances in medical research and healthcare access. However, as a healthcare researcher, I cannot help but notice that there are still several key issues (in no particular order) that need our attention, understanding and potential action.
1 / Gender disparity in clinical trials
Women have been underserved with clinical trial representation for decades, with men historically the ‘gold standard’ used for medical research. This obviously has resulted in a whole host of ramifications for women, who are ultimately still being failed when it comes to their health and wellbeing.
With fluctuating regulations and unclear guidance on inclusion, there is a knowledge gap in how products and treatments truly affect women. Even trials with gender inclusivity there is a lack of focus on trial outcomes, with many publications being ‘gender-silent’ and not actively reporting differences by gender.
But how big is this problem, and what can we do as a sector to challenge this?
2 / Medical gaslighting
According to the October 2022 SHE Media Medical Gaslighting survey, 72% of women state they have experienced medical gaslighting.
Medical gaslighting is the dismissal or downplaying of a person’s symptoms by a healthcare practitioner, which can have a serious impact on a patient’s physical and mental health.
Gaslighting minimises the experiences of women, exacerbating already prevalent health disparities. But not only this, it can have disastrous consequences on a woman’s quality and/or longevity of life.
How can we ensure women’s experiences are validated and taken seriously in healthcare? Should research into diagnosis be just as well funded as treatment? How does this issue link to gender disparity in clinical trials?
3 / Inequality within women’s health
While there are universal inequalities for women in the healthcare system, this can be further exacerbated for women of colour, those in the LGBTQ+ community, living with disability, or lower socioeconomic status. Cultural norms and lack of education often compound many of these issues.
A wider discussion also needs to be had about the inclusion of people who identify as women, as well as those female at birth who do not identify as women, in the conversation around health access and equality.
How do we encourage intersectionality within our research? What can we do to improve education and access to healthcare? Which marginalised communities suffer the most?
4 / Stigma and shame around reproductive health
While today the topics of menstruation and menopause are more open than ever before, there is still stigma faced, menopause in the workplace being a good example.
Startling statistics show a lack of support, treatment and access for menopausal women. With many women of menopausal age involved in taking care of loved ones like children or elderly relatives, combined with the psychological and physical impact of menopause – it’s clear there is a need for support.
Menstruation is still seen as ‘dirty’ in some religions and cultures, and societal stereotypes are often used to minimise menstruating women as ‘too emotional’ and therefore less capable than their male counterparts. Beyond attitudes, menstrual health products themselves are wildly outdated – it wasn’t until this year, that period products were tested with human blood.
What can we do to ensure adequate and effective baseline testing of women’s health products? How are shame and stigma exacerbating the issue?
5 / Abortion rights (or lack thereof)
The progress made in access to safe and legal abortion over the last 50 years has been considerable, reflecting changing social attitudes and political landscapes.
However, there has recently been a concerning rise in efforts across the world to reduce these hard fought for rights. In the United States, Roe v Wade’s dismantling is paving the way for individual states to set their own limits. It now truly depends on location and ability / willingness to travel that determines access to abortion services and care. At one end of the extreme are states that have banned abortion under any circumstance, and at the other are states who have chosen to protect abortion rights via their state constitutions. Worryingly, the ruling is also inciting broader discussions about rights to contraception and care provided to women who have miscarried or for those whose lives are at risk due to complications during pregnancy.
While significant progress has been made in the UK and Ireland regarding abortion rights, several challenges persist. Issues such as limited access in rural areas, ongoing stigma, time restrictions, protest and harassment from anti-abortion activists, and underdeveloped services in Northern Ireland are examples of the barriers that still exist.
What can healthcare research and medical professionals do to help reduce this stigma? Do we have a role to play in normalising abortion as part of routine sexual and reproductive healthcare?
These are just 5 of the areas we are keen to explore. Others such as contraception inequality, disproportionate treatment of mental health and period poverty are also of worthy of attention.
While change is happening, there is so much more we can do as a society and as healthcare researchers to ensure gender equality in healthcare and beyond. Ultimately, awareness of issues in women’s health leads to a necessity to change our approach in insights and consultancy.
There is room to make sure our research is representative of the experiences of women. From project design, ensuring our approaches consider the prevalence of conditions across sex, to recruitment and ensuring representative samples, to in-depth analysis unpicking the experiences for women and uncovering any disparities.
We can and should do more to provide information and guidance on patient experiences, health inequalities, route to diagnosis, treatment access and dosing, to product launch and beyond.
Look out for our next posts in the mini-series where we will be doing a deep-dive into some of the key issues in this complicated and ever-shifting landscape.