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  • Althea Ocomen

Frequent Misdiagnosis Of Women In The Healthcare Industry

Since 1999, the number of deaths caused by medical errors increased from 98,000 to over 250,000 yearly. Not only is the increase shocking, but so is the fact that women are far more likely to be misdiagnosed than men, which begs the question – Is Misdiagnosis an Epidemic Among Women?


Misdiagnosis Occurs Far More in Women

Research done in 2016 found that women have a much greater chance of being misdiagnosed than their male counterparts. Some women spend years shuttling between doctors searching for answers only to find that the disorders other doctors missed or misdiagnosed were potentially life-threatening. In specific areas of healthcare, research showed the following trends in misdiagnosis:

  • Women are 50 percent more likely to be misdiagnosed following a heart attack.

  • Women are 30 more likely to be misdiagnosed, or have their condition overlooked entirely, following a stroke.

  • It takes approximately five years for autoimmune diseases to be correctly identified and diagnosed in women.

  • Female-specific conditions (endometriosis, adenomyosis, fibroids, etc.) often take 10 years or more for accurate identification and diagnosis.


Of course, any doctor can make a mistake – they are human after all. But why are women so much more vulnerable to misdiagnosis and the detrimental side effects thereof?


Impacts Of Misdiagnosis

The research, funded by the American Heart Association and the National Institutes of Health, found that only 39% of women who have a cardiac arrest in a public place were given CPR, versus 45% of men. Men were 23% more likely to survive and one of the study leaders, Benjamin Abella, speculated that rescuers may worry about moving a woman’s clothing, or touching her breasts. One idea mooted was more realistic-looking practice mannequins to account for the female torso.


This is evident throughout history, from Aristotle’s distinction between the superior male “form” and inferior female “matter”, to the medieval idea that women (“leaky vessels”) were unbalanced due to their wombs. In antiquity, doctors recommended marriage as a cure for female psychological disorders, and the Victorians had an unfortunate habit of committing women to asylums, regardless of evidence of mental illness. Today, while female GPs outnumber male ones (52% to 48%), 55% of registered medical practitioners are male. And the majority of specialists – 66% – are men.


In 2001, University of Maryland academics Diane Hoffman and Anita Tarzian published an analysis of the ways gender bias plays out in clinical pain management. They examined several previous studies, including one that indicated women are more likely to be given sedatives for their pain and concluded that women were more likely to be inadequately treated by healthcare providers. Several authors attribute this to “a long history within our culture of regarding women’s reasoning capacity as limited”, the paper noted.


Factors Impacting Women’s Healthcare

The reasons why women are misdiagnosed at an alarming rate compared to men are not entirely clear. Research does suggest the following factors, or “problems”, that cause women to suffer for long periods of time. Firstly, doctors view women as “Too Emotional”: Historically, the term “hysteria” was used to describe the emotional nature of women. But even in our increasingly advanced and equalized society, the fact remains that women are often labeled as too emotional.


Furthermore, disorders that are very physical are often misdiagnosed or “written off” as being related to emotional or psychological health. Symptoms like difficulty breathing, sweating, nausea, or abdominal pain are often equated to anxiety or stress. While sometimes physical and psychological symptoms may work off one another, there is a very serious problem of physical examinations not being conducted before determining the cause of the symptoms are psychological.


Secondly, women are a “Medical Mystery”: Much of the research and training that doctors receive is outdated in terms of understanding the reproductive system and female-specific conditions. Some doctors believe that the problem rests in the curriculum and “patterns” that medical school students are taught. When practicing, if a patient doesn’t fit into that pattern, it becomes even harder to make an accurate diagnosis. In terms of curriculum problems, less than half of medical students included in one study felt the curriculum prepared them for gender differences in their clinical practices. The fact is – doctors are often trained to treat men and women similarly, but that is not always the best practice.


Ways Women Can Take Control of Their Healthcare

There is little that is more frustrating than being in pain and feeling like your symptoms are being dismissed. As a patient, you may not be able to control the way that your doctor practices medicine, but you can control the way that you pursue healthcare and demand results.


Be an Online Sleuth: The internet doesn’t always have reliable information, but there are many websites that can help you put a name to your symptoms. Sites like the Mayo Clinic, WebMD, and the National Institutes of Health can help you pinpoint your symptoms, understand how they are affecting your body, and articulate what you are going through with your doctor. The more informed and concise you are, the better your chances of getting positive results.


Consider Seeing a Female Doctor: There is a lot of great male and female doctors out there who could help you. But as we mentioned before, sometimes doctors have a difficult time understanding the differences between males and females. Some research shows that female doctors often invest more time and education into elements of care like communication and following guidelines. Because the female body is more complex thanks to the reproductive organs, sometimes a female doctor has a better personal understanding of what you are going through – but that is not always the case.


Get Legal Support: If at any time you feel like you have been treated negligently by a doctor and you were injured as a result, it may also be helpful to contact a medical malpractice attorney to discuss your situation. Not all medical mistakes are considered malpractice, but every patient deserves the opportunity to stand up for themselves and their wellbeing.



 

References:

https://www.medmalfirm.com/news-and-updates/misdiagnosis-epidemic-among-women/

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2019/nov/13/the-female-problem-male-bias-in-medical-trials

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/nov/20/healthcare-gender-bias-women-pain

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