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Is There Gender Inequality in the Healthcare System?

In short, yes, there is. There are several aspects of healthcare where women face challenges. These imbalances can have serious consequences, including negative health outcomes. It’s important to understand the ways women are at a disadvantage in the healthcare system, so they can be better prepared to deal with them.

Women Have Increased Healthcare Costs

Women often pay much more for healthcare than men. Many explain this trend by pointing to preventative reproductive care, family planning costs, or the costs of having a baby. However, for many years the practice of “gender rating” by insurance companies made healthcare costs even higher for women.

Gender rating was common practice for insurance companies for many years. Women were charged higher insurance premiums than men for the same coverage, simply because of their gender. Insurance companies claimed women were more costly to insure. But in reality, women just tend to use healthcare differently.

As more healthcare regulations such as HIPAA and the Affordable Care Act pass in Congress, women have gotten more protections from these unfair practices. In fact, the Affordable Care Act banned gender rating in health insurance. Now, insurance companies cannot charge women and men different rates for the same coverage.

Women Encounter Unequal Gender Representation

Although the number of female doctors has increased dramatically over the years and some specialties tend to have more female practitioners, there are still more male physicians than female ones. Women who are healthcare professionals experience higher levels of burnout, discrimination, and unequal pay. And unfortunately, these issues can lead to negative outcomes for their patients as well.

Unequal gender representation can also make it harder for female patients to find a physician they trust and are comfortable with. They may feel a male doctor doesn’t understand their experiences. Plus, as discussed below, this gap perpetuates the lack of knowledge on women’s health issues.

Women Deal With a Lack of Knowledge

In far too many cases, women are not able to get proper care for their medical concerns because doctors simply don’t have answers to their questions. Since women have only been a part of clinical trials and other medical studies for a few decades, most modern medicine is primarily geared toward men. This problem has improved in recent years, but there is still a gap between knowledge on men’s health and knowledge on women’s health.

When it comes to heart disease, for example, it has become clear in recent years that the same methods of diagnosis and treatment cannot always be used for both men and women. Many don’t realize that women are at much higher risk for heart-related issues than other diseases that are given more attention, such as breast cancer. And since the symptoms can vary between women and men, it’s easy for physicians to mistake them for something else.

Women Are Less Likely to Be Believed

For whatever reason, doctors are less likely to believe female patients – especially when it comes to pain. For many years, doctors have assumed that women are more sensitive, or just more vocal, about pain. They might even tell a woman they aren’t experiencing the pain or discomfort they say they are. This is often called “health care gaslighting,” which can lead to lack of testing and delayed diagnosis.

Women’s symptoms are often construed as stress or anxiety – it can be difficult to get a doctor to believe a certain condition is being experienced. Sometimes our respect for doctors gets in the way. Remember, although doctors are highly educated and usually well-meaning, they’re still human. They can make mistakes. It’s important to stand your ground in these situations. Talk to more than one doctor, if necessary.

This issue is one reason why so many women turn to alternative forms of healthcare. These treatments often don’t work, and can be extremely expensive. But, until mainstream healthcare professionals make it a priority to believe female patients, they will continue to look elsewhere for their care.

Women Receive Substandard Care

Because of gender bias in healthcare, women tend to receive substandard care in our healthcare system. For example, women die from heart attacks more frequently than men, partially because the symptoms present themselves differently in women. They might not receive the right pain management if their doctor doesn’t believe they are in as much pain as they describe.

Studies have shown women are also less likely to receive CPR if they collapse in a public place, or be admitted to a hospital if they are having chest pains.

Women Experience Discrimination

Women can, and often do, face discrimination when seeking access to healthcare. This is especially true for women of color and trans women. For example, women of color are much more likely to die in childbirth than white women. Trans women often have difficulty finding a doctor who not only understands their needs, but will cater to them properly.

No one should have to deal with discrimination, gaslighting, and lack of knowledge in health care. For women, it’s important to be persistent in advocating for yourself. And remember, if a doctor fails to meet the standard of care required by the law, you may have a medical malpractice claim.

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