More than 50% of women believe that gender discrimination against female patients in healthcare is a serious problem.1 They’re right--and the data shows it.
Overall, women–and especially women of color–are more likely to have legitimate health concerns dismissed by healthcare providers than men. They are also less likely to receive evidence-based care than male counterparts who present with comparable symptoms or conditions. For example, a woman brought to the hospital for a heart attack is more likely to die from it than a man brought to the hospital under identical circumstances.2
Women are perceived in a different emotional light than men, and that can cause major problems when it comes to getting an accurate medical diagnosis.3 Their symptoms are often minimized, dismissed, or outright disbelieved by healthcare providers–instead, women are made to believe they’re overreacting, over-embellishing for attention, or having some kind of a mental health crisis.
Back in the day–think 19th, 20th century–a woman using honest, descriptive language to communicate pain was referred to as “hysterical”. Today, the terms have changed, but the sentiment hasn’t–women are still inherently expected to be more anxious and emotional than men. A complaint they bring to a doctor, legitimate though it may be, is sometimes brushed off as moodiness or excessive worry.
This long-ingrained systemic bias is, of course, objectively annoying, but it’s also dangerous. Women are getting diagnosed with painful and life-threatening conditions like lupus, cancer, and diabetes literally years later than men are.
It is possible for doctors and the wider medical community to make meaningful strides toward gender equity in the healthcare space.
Changing teaching and training protocols to reflect patients of all genders, weights, races, ages, and sexual orientations would create a more level medical playing field. That foundation would be strengthened by diversifying healthcare teams to make them look more like the patients they treat, asking patients more open-ended questions, offering training on systemic gender bias, and making a more concerted effort to include women in clinical trials.
physicians.dukehealth.org: Recognizing, Addressing Unintended Gender Bias in Patient Care | Duke Health Referring Physicians
cedars-sinai.edu: Examining Gender Bias in Medical Care | Cedars-Sinai
greatergood.berkeley.edu: How to Address Gender Inequality in Health Care
escardio.org: Heart attack diagnosis missed in women more often than in men
medicalnewstoday.com: Gender bias in medical diagnosis: Facts, causes, and impact
journals.sagepub.com: Gender inequalities in depression/anxiety and the consumption of psychotropic drugs: Are we medicalising women's mental health? - Amaia Bacigalupe, Unai Martín, 2021
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