According to the journal Nature, in a survey of medical studies across nine different medical journals in 2004, only 37 percent of participants were female. In order to work towards parity of the sexes in biomedical research, the article’s authors strongly recommend that the “inclusion of women [in medical studies] in numbers that match the abundance in the general population of the condition being studied is crucial, as is sex-specific analysis of results.” Nature further reveals an additional complication: that “medicine as it is currently applied to women is less evidence-based than that being applied to men.” This is a complex problem that deserves our full attention now, as many argue that the gender bias in medical testing unintentionally short-changes women’s health care.
Why is there such a large gender disparity when it comes to medical testing; and what can be done to close this gap?
Outdated methods, outdated mindsets
It’s a proven fact that there is gender bias in medical testing, and it isn’t just due to sexism. Dr. Janine Austin Clayton, director of the National Institute of Health’s Office of Research on Women’s Health, expands on these roadblocks for women’s participation. She explains that, historically: “women have…been excluded from medical research due to a protectionist attitude. [The male researchers] thought that…women who might get pregnant during a study and that could be harmful to the fetus, so there was an attitude of—’we want to protect women’.” The Office of Research on Women’s Health has been instrumental in helping to change that outdated mindset, and has clear strategic goals in place that call for a framework to integrate women’s health research in three major ways by year 2020:
- Advancing understanding of sex/gender differences in health and disease.
- Integrating sex/gender perspectives in emerging basic science fields and in translational research and technologies.
- Fostering partnerships to improve translating and disseminating health information.
Institutions such as the Office of Research on Women’s Health have made strides to obliterate the gender disparity in medical testing. Here’s an example: How Sex and Gender Influence Health and Disease infographic clearly details how disease presents itself differently in women and in men—from mental health to osteoporosis.
Harness innovative approaches to highlight the disparity
Here’s the good news on the medtech front—which may prove to be the “leg-up” to shine light on the gender bias in medical research. In this Bloomberg interview, according to investor Dr. Beth Seidenberg, “there is an explosion of technology advancing to help women.” She explains why she chooses to invest in women’s health technology companies such as Progyny, a fertility health company that harnesses innovative approaches and solutions to help more women conceive and improve the likelihood of single child pregnancies. This timely opportunity to invest is directly due to the tremendous advances in health tech today: tools such as “new imaging software that enables us to take pictures of an embryo every five minutes, and be able to predict which one is going to become an embryo that can be implanted that could become a baby.”
Dr. Seidenberg also pinpoints other women’s ehealth innovations that have her intrigued (and for us as inspiration):
- Wildflower Health, a suite of mobile apps that help health plans and hospitals engage families across a lifetime of health decisions.
- NayaHealth, a smart breast pump using HealthTech.
- Mavenclinic, telemedicine for women.
The current selection of women’s ehealth products is astounding. We at Women’s eHealth aim to align eHealth tools and education to afford women the opportunity to achieve improved health services. Clearly, the surge of users adopting ehealth technologies equals the opportunity for women to self-determine the trajectory of various women’s health markets. In turn, this newfound momentum may put pressure on medical-testing at large to reform their biased practices.
Meet our Embassador
Mary Brannock is a passionate women’s health advocate who brings dedication and front line social work efforts to achieve better health outcomes for women. Mary’s vision is to align the efforts of eHealth tools and education to afford women the opportunity to achieve better health awareness, preventative health planning and access to healthcare. She is embarking on an international women’s health advocacy initiative to “map” the mobile health landscape, forge connections and share her valuable expertise and passion for women’s health with NGO’s, non-profits and educational & research institutions. Her travels begin in Victoria, Australia and end in Lima, Peru. Other pins on her itinerary include South East Asia, Europe and South America. Stay tuned for updates here on her firsthand experiences, insight and hope for the future of women’s health.
We at Women’s eHealth strongly believe that this opportunity to broaden our global perspective will aid in better understanding population health and access—and in turn be able to create innovative solutions to incite positive change for women’s healthcare. United, we have the power to truly change the world by connecting with other advocates across the globe.
Racial, Ethnic, Sex & Gender Diversity is key to tackle gender gap
We need comprehensive ways to start to break down the gender bias in medical testing to improve women’s health services, fund technology and ramp up health care standards. Dr. Clayton calls us to action, on how to tackle these seemingly unsurmountable problems: “Data has shown that when you put people together from diverse backgrounds—racially, ethnically, sex, gender—you solve problems in more comprehensive ways than if you have the same people who have the same background.”
We are dedicated to contributing to the dynamic conversation serving the wider women’s health community and the ehealth landscape. We aim to collaborate with strong minds—a network of individuals who all have the same goal. We invite you to join us on our website, Twitter and LinkedIn.