“It’s likely typical menstrual pain. Don’t be a girl about it.”
“Looks like a lump. Let’s monitor but I don’t think we need to do more than that right now.”
“What did you think your headaches were? A brain tumor?”
“You must be stressed. Try to get more rest and you’ll be OK.”
Chances are many women have found themselves in similar conversations with healthcare professionals. With the recent news and national conversation around health equity and women’s rights in America, I have been reflecting on how healthcare has been shaped in my eyes, as a woman, and the eyes of those around me.
The healthcare communications field, specifically in public relations, is uniquely unpredictable. New research in life sciences and regulatory and industry decisions impacting healthcare surface on a weekly – even daily – basis and often the implications are not immediately understood. Yet, what we do as communicators on a day-to-day basis ultimately impacts those who need new solutions in big or small ways: patients.
Think back to your most recent visit to the doctor. In general, you expect to be educated about what you are there for, to receive answers to your follow up questions, and to be treated fairly. The reality for many paints a different picture, with a genuinely heartfelt medical question being answered with one of the quotes in the opening of this article. It should be noted that those are all real quotes my loved ones and I have heard from doctors.
Sadly, according to a poll reported in TODAY.com’s Dismissed series, 52% of women and 36% of men considered discrimination towards patients to be a serious issue, and 17% of women felt they had been treated differently because of their gender. Only 6% of men said the same.
This year, I’ve had the privilege to work with a few women who live with multiple sclerosis (MS), which is a chronic autoimmune condition, and in almost every conversation, each woman has said the same thing: “Find your support crew, read the studies, ask your doctor questions.”
Instead of being discouraged by negative experiences with our healthcare system, I believe that everyone – especially women – should actively participate in conversations about our own health, make informed decisions, and do all we can to leave each healthcare visit feeling satisfied that our concerns, fears, and questions have been given due attention.
Ways to be your own advocate include showing up for your appointments prepared with questions, seeking a second opinion if you don’t feel comfortable with the answer, and researching the options you have before making a treatment decision.
And while there is no greater patient advocate than yourself, it’s not just on us as patients, as women, to stand up. We need help – in this case, healthcare professionals, academic and public health leaders, advocacy groups, healthcare companies, and our family members and loved ones – to significantly move the needle toward gender equity in healthcare.
As a female healthcare public relations professional, I’m passionate about the myriad of ways that purposeful communications with patients, advocacy groups, and healthcare professionals can lead to more equitable patient care for women. Here are a few to keep in mind:
We can all make a difference by educating ourselves as well as those around us, our families, the men in our lives, and other advocates on how to support women’s rights in healthcare. Because gender equality ultimately benefits everyone.
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