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Gender Bias in Health Care Makes Patients Feel Unheard

— December 7, 2021

Unfortunately, implicit bias is still common in health care.

Studies have shown that there are significant gender disparities in health care.  In fact, women are less likely than men to receive proper treatment because the system simply doesn’t understand their biology.  This means their symptoms are typically minimized due to overarching implicit bias.

Just one study found that, “Health needs were substantially greater among older women compared with men, but women had fewer economic resources.  Controlling for health needs did little to explain gender differences in preventive care and increased gender differences in the use of hospital services…In contrast, the greater use of home health care among women was almost entirely explained by their greater health needs.”  This seems to suggest a disconnect in important conversational interactions.

Other studies have found that even when men and women talk about their symptoms and they are nearly identical, women are more treated differently than their counterparts.  Implicit bias among health care professionals needs to be identified, acknowledged, and addressed in to address disparities in the care patients receive.

Gender Bias in Health Care Makes Patients Feel Unheard
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

The BMC Medical Ethics journal also cited in 2017, “To fulfill the goal of delivering impartial care, healthcare professionals should be wary of any kind of negative evaluation they make that is linked to membership of a group or a particular characteristic.”

The National Center for Biotechnology Information agreed, citing, “The mere existence of cultural stereotypes about social groups (e.g. women, men, Blacks, Whites) can influence one’s behavior toward and judgment of individuals from that stereotyped group.”

Implicit bias has also been shown to be present and consistent regardless of the physician’s education or training.  It’s a subconscious, habitual way of thinking more than a conscious miscommunication.

“Implicit gender bias among healthcare providers has been shown to persist from early in medical training and play a role in gender disparities in hiring, advancement, and pay as physicians’ careers progress,” according to the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Such programs are designed to prevent unconscious stereotypes that negatively influence clinical work by hindering the rapport between doctor and patient.  Developing standardized indicators and program audits are needed.  In other words, periodic check-ins could act as reminders.

In general, implicit bias is so engrained into the subconscious brain, and bias affects everyone’s decisions, behaviors, and interactions with others – key components of health care. Although implicit biases can be positive or negative, both can have harmful results on others when patients, especially minorities, feel unheard.  This lack of helpful patient encounters causes a sense of desperation.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (CDC) reports “56% of people coping with long-term pain are female and yet only 36.3% of healthcare providers are female according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.”

Despite abundant studies and investigations about gender bias, inadequate treatment of women and improper diagnoses continue to be regularly reported. Improving the representation of women in health care settings is critical as it allows a space for women to become leaders in the field and share their knowledge of gender-based ailments.  It is a dream that can be easily realized if biases were taken out of the equation.


Why 50/50 Gender Representation Matters in Healthcare

Implicit bias in healthcare professionals: a systematic review

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