The Urgent Need For More Female Voices And Leadership In The Healthcare Industry.

By Caitlin Hoff

The recent #MeToo movement momentum has shown the world just how far women still have left to go before equality becomes a reality. From sexism in the workplace to legislative battles over reproductive rights, women face hurdles in every aspect of life daily. Even our healthcare industry has failed to protect its female patients for decades, and it’s something we need to spend more time talking about. 

Medical Device Industry 

In 2018, Netflix released the documentary The Bleeding Edge which took a critical look at the medical device industry. One of the devices featured in the film was Bayer’s Essure female sterilization device. The device, consisting of two metal coils, is placed in a woman’s fallopian tubes. Over time, scar tissue develops around the coils and prevents sperm from reaching a woman’s eggs thereby preventing any unwanted pregnancies. 

As you may suspect from the documentary’s title, this sterilization device proved to be dangerous for many patients. Some women experienced perforation of the uterus or other organs, device breakage or migration, chronic pain, autoimmune disorders, and unwanted or unintended pregnancies after the device was implanted. Essure was designed to be a permanent fixture, so many of these women required surgery to remove the device and ease their symptoms. 

By April 2018, nearly 27,000 women self-reported adverse side effects caused by the Essure device to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). During this time, the device was left on the market, but the FDA did enforce labeling changes including boxed warnings for the device and restricted the use of the device to healthcare providers that met specific qualifications. At the end of 2018, Bayer removed the device from the U.S. market citing a decline in sales. However, it’s not a surprising move for the company following the scathing documentary while also facing 18,000 pending lawsuits filed on behalf of women injured by the device.

Clinical Research

Behind the scenes of the healthcare industry, women have been slighted for decades in clinical trials and research. Take, for example, heart disease. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for adult women in the United States, but women have historically been underrepresented in clinical research so most of what we know about heart disease is based on studying men. Unfortunately, heart disease doesn’t always affect men and women the same, and this gender disparity in research has led to dire consequences for many women. 

Women, for example, don’t always experience the commonly known signs of a heart attack like chest pain. Instead, they may experience other symptoms like shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea, fainting, or fatigue. These lesser known symptoms are easily misdiagnosed by women and sometimes even by their doctors. Imagine your doctor, misdiagnosing your heart attack symptoms as “signs of panic disorder, stress, and even hypochondria.” This is an example of more than gender bias in research. It’s an example of women being ignored and stereotyped as hysterical

In 1993, Congress passed the National Institute of Health Revitalization Act requesting greater inclusivity in clinical research. This act required studies to include more women and underrepresented minorities in trials and studies. While gender bias in clinical research still exists, this act by Congress did increase the number of female test subjects into clinical research and prompted awareness around issue itself. 

Maternal Health

One of the greatest tragedies for the modern American woman is the U.S. maternal mortality rate. As the global maternal mortality rate has declined, America’s rate has actually increased resulting in one of the worst maternal mortality rates in the developing world. On the other hand, our infant death rate has decreased. Now, more infants surviving is, of course, a good thing, but some people wonder at what cost.  

A 2017 investigative article from NPR documented the many examples of how our modern healthcare system works so diligently to protect the lives of newborns yet fails to protect mothers from the potentially dangerous consequences of childbirth. There isn’t even one recognized protocol that healthcare professionals use to educate mothers about their own health risks following birth when being discharged from the hospital. How can we, as a society, place so much importance on the health of a newborn, while simultaneously disregarding the needs of that child’s mother? 

It’s important to recognize that not every woman experiences life-threatening complications during or after childbirth, but plenty of women do. Childbirth significantly injures 65,000 women and takes the lives of nearly 1,000 women each year in the United States, and many of these incidents are preventable. There are some people working to change this trend, but not enough people are taking these problems seriously. Both women and children deserve more from our healthcare system.

Conclusion

Women have not always been included, considered, or taken care of in the healthcare space. We have a history of ignoring our needs and suffering to take care of others, but it’s time that this same gesture is returned. We need equal care and consideration in the healthcare industry. We make up half the population, and our needs matter just as much as the other half. It’s time that the healthcare space recognizes that. 

As a consumer advocate, Caitlin Hoff works to raise awareness and protect families against the dangers of harmful and defective products in the consumer and medical space. You can follow more of her articles on Facebook or Twitter.

2 Comments

  1. Pingback: The Urgent Need For More Female Voices And Leadership In The Healthcare Industry. – GirlTalkHQ – The Academic Clinic

  2. I am a gynecologist in Austin that has been a part of the Essure battle for 5 years. I have been to the FDA with these ladies and I have removed close to 700 sets of Essure’s. I would like you to know this because I am doing things for this movement and trying to help as many women as possible Instagram @shawntassonemd

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