Women take charge of the “old wives’ tales”

By Tammy Nelson

Many women feel confused and insecure about the health care they receive. The Commonwealth Fund 1998 International Health Policy Survey found that fewer than one in four Canadian respondents felt their health care system worked well. In addition, the level of public confidence in the health care system decreased in 1998 to 20 per cent from 56 per cent in 1988.

Overall, it’s not surprising women feel a lack of confidence in the health care system. Historically, most of the mistakes made by the medical establishment regarding women’s health occurred because of inadequate drug testing and the failure of physicians to acknowledge the concerns and complaints of female patients. In addition, up until the 1990s, most research was conducted on men based on the assumption that women were not really physiologically different from men. These major oversights in medical research left many women feeling vulnerable and ignored.

Because these problems created a lack of trust among women, a growing female population is looking to alternative forms of health care. In 1996-97, the National Population Health Survey found that women were one-and-a-half times more likely than men to use alternative health care. Alternative health care includes massage therapy, acupuncture and homeopathic medicine. This suggests a departure from the old ways of compliance and blind trust in physicians.

Despite the bleak history of women’s health care, things are improving. Medical education and health care delivery are adopting more holistic approaches to health care. Also, demographics within the medical profession are changing. More women are entering the medical field, which is good news for patients because studies show that communication styles of female physicians positively affect a patient satisfaction.

According to Dr. C. M. Clancey, a respected researcher in women’s health, the future of women’s health rests on three key issues. First is the relationship between socioeconomic status and health. Studies show that socioeconomic status is the number one predictor of women’s health. A focus on increased standards of living and an improvement in health care delivery to low economic areas will hopefully
improve the status of women’s health.

Second is the broad issue of women’s interactions with the health care system. It is of utmost importance that women participate and are invited to participate in clinical research. In addition, effective communication between patients and health providers will set the tone for the future of women’s health.

Third is the critical need for coordination of care. Recently, multi-disciplinary women’s health centres have emerged with great popularity. These centres address the need for a comprehensive and holistic approach to women’s health, and provide a comfortable atmosphere where women are encouraged to ask questions and learn more about their health. In Calgary, the Grace Women’s Health Centre offers these services.

It is important for women, as health care consumers, to demand quality health services. This means being involved and educated about health issues important to women.