How The Medical Community Lets Women Down

Pulse Oximetry, Plastic surgery. Pulse oximeter. (Photo by: BSIP/UIG via Getty Images)
BSIP UIG via Getty Images

While the MDs tend to get all the attention, the most influential title in medicine may actually be “Ms.”

Earlier this year, a study from the Center for Talent Innovation (CTI) found that 59% of women make healthcare decisions for others—a percentage that grows to a whopping 94% when you focus in working mothers. (Full disclosure: My company, the Greyhealth Group, contributed to the report.)

Yet, despite the extent of women’s decision-making power revealed in that report, a follow-up survey we at GHG conducted found that the needs of women are very often left unmet by almost every key health stakeholder. Indeed, when we asked healthcare professionals to rate themselves on how well they’re serving women—and women to rate their satisfaction with their doctors and pharmacists—the gulf between the two sets of scores was enormous. In every single case, the healthcare professionals gave themselves far higher scores than their female patients assigned to them.

Why does this matter?

Health is a $6.5 trillion market, replete with innovative products, broad access, and technology that puts an explosion of information in the palms of our hands. Nevertheless, patients and consumers continue to falter when it comes to caring for their own health. Example: Only about half of patients take their medications as prescribed, and 20% to 30% of them never take them at all. Imagine how much could change if we were fully able to engage the women of these families?

An information gap

Fully 78% of women in the CTI study agree that “it is very important to be knowledgeable about keeping myself and my loved ones healthy.” Women are clearly seeking information—the researchers found that they are more likely than men to ask questions—yet they remain uncertain about their ability to make good health decisions. In the U.S., only 53% said they are knowledgeable about keeping themselves and their families healthy.

A missed opportunity

We collaborated with Kantar Health, a participant in the CTI study, to determine the size of the gap between the women who are making healthcare decisions and the primary healthcare providers, pharmacists, and managed care professionals who serve them. We found that these providers sincerely believe that they are building trust and confidence. Resoundingly, women disagree.

More than 80% of the primary care physicians we surveyed believe they are delivering. In addition, the majority of pharmacists think they exhibit winning behaviors. More than 85% of managed care organization professionals also believe they’re succeeding with women, with one exception: Only 67% believe they are delivering in terms of providing coverage for doctors that women trust.

Now, let’s look at women’s perceptions. When asked their primary care doctors “ask and listen to women’s questions and concerns,” 56% of women agreed. Meanwhile, 89% of those physicians claim this behavior. Doctors are also overly optimistic about how much their patients trust them—69% of women say they trust their primary care physician “a lot” or “completely,” while 87% of PCPs believe their patients trust them. Similarly, only 36% of women say pharmacists “discuss pharmaceutical options and alternatives,” while 72% of pharmacists told us they deliver on this score.

Bridging the gap

The behaviors that build trust and confidence with aren’t hugely complex. Indeed, what women want is fairly simple: to save time, to receive clear information, and to have her concerns heard. To get there, though, we need to recognize where we are falling short and then improve the dialogue.

Given our findings, this shift requires building trusted, two-way relationships. By speaking to women—be they patients or decision makers on someone else’s care—listening to her needs, arming her with the right information to make good decisions, and supporting her as she makes them, we can do far better in seeing the better outcomes we’re desperate to produce in healthcare. These women are patients, mothers, daughters, caregivers, employees, soccer moms, Facebook friends, and more. They have enormous influence. Communication is the cure—and women are listening.

Lynn O’Connor Vos is CEO of global health communications firm Greyhealth Group. Vos serves on the boards of OptimizeRx, nTelos Wireless, and the Jed Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting the emotional health of college students. She is a past recipient of the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association’s Woman of the Year award and is a frequent speaker on healthcare innovation and industry issues.



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