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Understanding Why Medicine Has Failed Women So Much

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Unfortunately, there is no doubt about it: women’s healthcare has been overlooked throughout history. The medical gender bias is still alive and kicking today, with women often experiencing a more difficult time with diagnosis and healthcare compared to men. The problem runs very deep, which means tackling the issue has proven difficult for medical researchers and healthcare workers.

What Problems Do Women Face When Receiving Healthcare?

No healthcare system is absolutely perfect, particularly when it comes to inclusivity. Women have faced a lot of problems in healthcare over the years. One example is how hard it is for women to get diagnosed with certain conditions – for example, women often have to wait over seven years to get a diagnosis of endometriosis, a condition that can cause severe pain and discomfort. When compared to men, women also have a harder time getting diagnosed with ADHD, autism, and cardiovascular disease. So, why does this happen?

A Look at Ancient History 

The inequality women face in healthcare is nothing new. In fact, it stretches all the way back to the ancient world. The gender bias in Ancient Greece was covered by Caroline Criado-Perez in her non-fiction book “Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men.” It discussed many of the healthcare issues women faced back then, highlighting that Aristotle – the Greek philosopher – wrote about the female body as though it was a mutilated form of a man’s. It’s unfortunate that, even in this century, much medical research still focuses on the male body as though it is the absolute standard rather than exploring the nuances and differences between male and female bodies and their often-differing symptoms.

Excluding Women from Clinical Trials 

There’s a huge reason why women have experienced failures in medicine so often throughout the years, and it has to do with medical research. Throughout history, women have often been excluded from clinical trials, with medical researchers focusing their research on only males, assuming that the findings would apply to everyone. Of course, this wasn’t true and has had serious consequences, with women receiving a harder time with diagnosis and treatment because of these blind spots. The good news is that inclusivity in clinical trials – particularly regarding women – has been more of a priority in recent years, although the gap still isn’t fully closed.

A Lack of Focus on Women’s Health Issues 

Not enough research has been done on women’s health, especially health concerns that are specific to women. Problems with menopause, the menstrual cycle, and post-maternity care have been overlooked time and time again. This has dire consequences, and there’s even been a step backwards when it comes to maternal care for women, with the death toll of women during pregnancy or after increasing to 13.41 deaths per 100,000 between 2020-2022.

Is Anything Being Done?

Yes. While history and even the current day may look bleak, the future doesn’t have to be. As mentioned, clinical trials are becoming increasingly inclusive, ensuring that necessary research is being done on both male and female bodies. Plus, the UK government has announced a new women’s health strategy in 2024, with their strategy in 2022 having already made some improvements, with women having better access to women’s health hubs and affordable HRT. While the gender bias in healthcare runs deep and requires a lot more work to overhaul, these steps are clearly in the right direction.

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‘Groundbreaking’ endometriosis study identifies patient priorities

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A “groundbreaking” study into endometriosis has identified three areas for future research that can help improve the outcomes for women with the condition.

The study, commissioned by Endometriosis New Zealand, attracted 1,262 participants, including 1,024 people with confirmed endometriosis, making it the largest ever study involving endometriosis patients and supporters in New Zealand.

Study participants identified the management and treatment of endometriosis, the need for a better understanding of its cause and improvements to diagnostic capability as the three main priorities for further research.

While these findings provide a clear pathway for future work, Endometriosis New Zealand chief executive, Tanya Cooke, said endometriosis research had historically been underfunded.

“With an estimated 120,000 New Zealanders living with endometriosis, much more needs to be invested into finding solutions,” Cooke explained.

“The reality is the outcomes for many endometriosis patients are pretty poor, with diagnosis often taking many years and treatment patchy across the country.”

Estimates based on Australian data suggest that endometriosis is likely to be costing New Zealand somewhere in the range of $1.3-1.5bn annually through increased healthcare costs and lost workforce productivity.

Cooke said: “The good news is that our findings align closely with those in Australia and provide three clear priorities for future research – improved treatment options, causation and better diagnostic capability.

“What New Zealand now requires is proper funding for a future research programme that can investigate these priorities more closely and improve the outcomes for individuals living with endometriosis.”

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Virtual care platform secures US$46m to address US maternal health crisis

Pomelo Care will use the funding to scale its care model and improve maternal and infant outcomes

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Marta Bralic Kerns, founder and CEO of Pomelo Care

The US virtual maternity care platform Pomelo Care has secured US$46m in funding to address the US maternal health crisis.

One in 10 babies born in the US today start their life in a neonatal intensive care unit.

Healthcare access continues to worsen, with one in eight births occurring in US counties with limited-to-no access to maternal care. Due to significant gaps in postpartum care, about half of pregnancy-related deaths in the US occur after hospital discharge.

The evidence exists for how to identify people at highest risk for complications and which interventions are most effective, but existing data gaps and provider capacity challenges make it difficult to apply these interventions at scale.

Pomelo has developed a care model that aims to address these challenges by analysing claims and health record data to identify individual risk factors and providing virtual pregnancy, postpartum, and infant care to patients to reduce those risks.

“We’ve long known what works to reduce maternal and infant complications,” said Marta Bralic Kerns, founder and CEO of Pomelo Care.

“The questions have always been: can you identify the patients who are at highest risk, can you deeply engage them in care to drive uptake of the prevention strategies we know work, and can you do it in the highest risk populations with the most limited access to care?”

“This data demonstrates that we absolutely can. And with this additional funding, we’ll have the opportunity to scale our care model to more pregnant people across the country.”

The funding, led by existing investors First Round Capital and Andreessen Horowitz (a16z) Bio + Health, is hoped to help Pomelo accelerate its partnerships with payors across the US and increase access to “evidence-based” care.

Josh Kopelman, partner at First Round Capital and Pomelo board member, said: “It’s rare to come across an opportunity where the incentives between patient, provider and payor are all aligned.

“Marta and the Pomelo team have found an incredible opportunity to dramatically improve outcomes for the highest risk populations, while helping payors reduce their avoidable costs.”

Vineeta Agarwala, general partner at a16z Bio + Health and Pomelo board member, added: “Pomelo is one among a small set of health tech companies that have earned true scale.

“This scale is evident in our partnerships with major Medicaid and commercial plans covering over three million lives, which create the opportunity to collaborate with OB providers, labour and delivery wards, and NICUs nationwide, while serving hundreds of thousands of expecting mothers and newborns with high quality, technology-enabled care.”

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One in three UK fertility patients seek treatment abroad due to high costs

Expensive fertility treatments prompt UK patients to seek help abroad

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One in three fertility patients in the UK seek treatment abroad due to high costs, a new survey has shown.

Fertility Family has gathered insights from 429 UK participants who have experienced difficulties with infertility.

The Infertility Awareness Report found that the high cost of fertility treatment in the UK has driven over one in four people to spend over £10,000 on both treatments and investigative procedures.

The research showed around 35 per cent of people struggling with infertility have considered seeking fertility treatment abroad due to the prospect of lower costs.

Of those seeking fertility treatment in a foreign country, however, only 14 per cent believed that clinics abroad have a higher success rate.

Of those actively trying to conceive almost one in five have used their life savings in the pursuit of having a child, whilst 25 per cent have paid for their fertility treatments using a credit card.

Dr Gill Lockwood, consultant at Fertility Family, said: “While we tend to cast our gaze on women when it comes to infertility, case studies have shown that infertility can impact both women and men in similar ways. However, women have been observed to seek help more than men.

“Although the psychological struggles of infertility can be overwhelming, many patients ultimately reach some type of resolution. Some of the alternatives include becoming parents to a relative’s children, adopting children, or deciding to adopt a child-free lifestyle.

“Needless to say, this resolution is usually psychologically demanding, and patients may feel forever impacted by the experience of infertility.”

A combination of fertility struggles and accessible healthcare have impacted people across the UK significantly, with one in two admitting to feeling “ashamed” due to their difficulties trying to conceive.

A further 31 per cent reported feeling that other people think “less” of them due to their fertility struggles, showcasing the need for better mental health support.

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