Women are the #1 consumers in the healthcare industry, making 80% of all healthcare decisions caring for ourselves and our families. But you wouldn’t know it based on our typical experiences.
Ask any woman about healthcare and we’ll tell you there is a lot of room for improvement. In the year 2021, what’s being done to make women’s healthcare better? While we love new femtech apps and wearables, women’s health needs an overhaul at the most basic level. The coordinated care model – offering Ob-Gyn, primary care, and mental wellness in one clinic – makes managing your whole wellbeing less time-consuming while improving health outcomes.
Let’s look at the facts about healthcare for women. We experience pain, mental health, and disease differently than men, yet medical education is largely based on male bodies and experiences. Women are seven times more likely to be misdiagnosed during a heart attack than men and we wait longer in emergency rooms and are less likely to be given painkillers than men.
The COVID-19 pandemic added more strain to women’s lives. Many of us began working from home while taking on countless new roles as daycare providers or even teachers. After more than a year of social distancing, many people have put off one or more health appointment or procedure and more people than ever before are in need of mental health support.
Women spend an estimated $500 billion annually on medical expenses, yet only 4% of healthcare research and development is dedicated to women’s health issues. In recent years, leaders have recognized these disparities for what they are – opportunities to improve women’s health. Year after year, investment in femtech has grown, bringing about new tech-based support options for fertility, menstruation, lactation, and mental wellness.
Apps and devices are great, but we need to reinvent the care model for women’s health. Women’s core healthcare providers – Ob-Gyn, primary care, and mental health – are mostly siloed and separate. Getting the care you need is like getting stuck in traffic when you’re already running late – when you’re experiencing discomfort, pain, or illness and you need to see a doctor, it can take three or more appointments in three or more different locations just to take care of a single issue.
Siloed care does a disservice to both our health and sanity. On average, we have to wait more than two and a half weeks for a gynecology or obstetric appointment. Because of the inconvenience, many women consider their Ob-Gyn to also be their primary care provider – but Ob-Gyns are not trained in providing primary care and don’t consider themselves to be primary care providers! We deserve better.
Women’s healthcare should be tailored for women’s lives, women’s bodies, and women’s unique needs. Your care should be coordinated, meaning that you should be able to have your annual check-up, get a new birth control prescription, and talk to a counselor about anxiety in the same place, with technology that makes everything easy and seamless.
Coordinated care can make women healthier. Take hyperthyroidism as an example. This condition, more common in women, occurs when your thyroid overproduces the hormone thyroxine. Hyperthyroidism can be dangerous if untreated, especially during pregnancy. However, diagnosing it can be difficult because symptoms show up all over the map – anxiety, irregular periods, arrhythmia, and more.
In a siloed care system, a patient could wait three weeks to see an Ob-Gyn, only to be told she really needs to see a primary care provider. That’s three more weeks living with a treatable illness! There’s also usually very little discussion between your Ob-Gyn and your primary care provider, so it can feel like you’re not getting the whole picture. At a coordinated care practice, referrals to other in-house providers happen seamlessly, and all of your providers, as well as your records, are in the same office. This not only makes getting care less of a headache, but it also makes treatment more effective.
Taking care of your mental health is also easier to manage at a coordinated care practice, which can be especially important during pregnancy. Around 10% of pregnant women and 13% of postpartum women experience mental health issues including depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and body dysmorphia. High levels of stress, anxiety, and depression while pregnant have been linked to preterm birth and low birth weight. In a coordinated care practice, Ob-Gyns, primary care physicians, and mental wellness counselors can work together to ensure that a patient’s mental and physical wellbeing are taken care of before, during, and after pregnancy.
Coordinated care is an essential building block of the next generation of women’s healthcare. Modern women are busy! We work, we support our friends and our families, and we live full lives. We deserve healthcare that is convenient, comfortable, and personalized – just like everything else in the 21st century. It’s time for us to expect more from our healthcare.
Dr. Sharon Kressel, Deborah Cobb, and Andrea Agalloco lead the care team at Liv by Advantia Health, the first practice in the Washington, D.C. region to offer coordinated obstetrics, gynecology, primary care, mental wellness, and more for women.