The Secret Sexism in Healthcare
Updated: Mar 26, 2021
In honor of International Women’s Day, we want to share some insight into often neglected issues within women’s health. Gender bias is, unfortunately, still rampant in healthcare, in regards to both female patients and doctors. This discrimination has lead to the misdiagnosis and mistreatment of millions of women.
Over 20% of women feel that they have been treated differently by a medical professional because of their gender. 17% of women say they have felt dismissed or ignored by a health care provider. In the Johnson Center’s all-female team, we ensure that will never happen.
Why does sexism persist in healthcare?
A large reason why gender discrimination exists in medicine is due to gender differences in the system. Over 65% of physicians are men. Despite receiving the same training, there are differences in the quality of care provided by a male physician in comparison to a female. Further, women have long been excluded from clinical studies, such exclusion has lead to a widespread lack of medical knowledge about the female body. Women’s neglect in clinical trials is due to the false, yet widespread belief that men’s and women’s bodies only differ in terms of reproductive organs. This is false. The female body is different, and the ignorance of that has only furthered discriminatory practice in medicine.
Certain conditions have faced harsher consequences within the sexist healthcare system. Such conditions include:
Heart Attack- This is the leading cause of death for women in America. Yet, studies have yet to find a physical reason for why women should have higher mortality rates. Moreover, one study found that when women receive the same heart attack treatments as men, they have the same odds of survival. Women’s higher mortality rate is not due to inferior bodies but in the medical response to their heart attack. This is coupled with men and women having different heart attack symptoms, the male’s much more well known.
Pain Management- Women are more likely to suffer from a chronic pain disorder, yet many women feel like their pain wasn’t taken seriously by their physician. Moreover, studies have demonstrated women are more likely to be given sedatives for pain, while men are more likely to be given pain medication. This inadequate treatment of women’s pain is linked to gender differences in the perception, description and expression, and coping strategies in regards to pain.
Dementia Care- In 2016, researchers found that men with dementia receive substantially better care quality than women with the same condition. Women with dementia are less likely to visit the doctor, receive less health monitoring, and are given more potentially dangerous medicine. This is especially harmful given that two-thirds of Americans with Alzheimer’s Disorder are women.
Reproductive System Conditions- Long have women faced discrimination in regards to their reproductive system, but endometriosis appears to be the worst. One in 10 women suffers from endometriosis, yet it takes an average of 7 to 8 years to be diagnosed. Young women and girls with the disease are often told pregnancy will cure them. Rates of endometriosis are comparable to that of diabetes, yet diabetes receives much more public funding and attention.
Difference in Care
As made clear above, men and women receive very different treatment from medical professionals, but studies have also shown male and female physicians provide very different levels of care.
A 2018 study analyzed mortality rates of over 580,000 heart attack patients admitted in Florida over the course of 20 years. The researchers found that mortality rates for both women and men were lower when the treating doctor was a woman.
In 2016, Harvard conducted a study on over 1.5 million Medicare patients. The results demonstrated that patients treated by a female physician were less likely to die or be readmitted to the hospital over 30-days than those cared for by men. Statistically, the mortality difference was small, but when applied to the real world, it translates to 32,000 fewer deaths.
We are not using these statistics to suggest women are better doctors than men, but the difference in the implementation of care is likely the reason for such discrepancies. Studies by John Hopkins have proved that female doctors spend more time listening to their patients- on average, an extra 10% of the allotted time. Another study demonstrated that male doctors are much more likely to interrupt their patients in an effort to refocus the conversation. While male physicians only waited 47 seconds before interrupting, female doctors wait an average of 3 minutes.