Home Health & Wellness 84% of Women Feel They Are Not Listened to by Healthcare Professionals. What Is Going Wrong?

84% of Women Feel They Are Not Listened to by Healthcare Professionals. What Is Going Wrong?

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The UK Government’s research on women’s health highlighted that approximately 84% of women feel they are not heard by healthcare professionals. In England, in 2022, a women’s health strategy emphasised the missed opportunities women experience within the healthcare sector, demonstrating examples of failures due to disbelief and dismissal. The report focused on failings such as Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust and the Paterson Inquiry Report, showcasing the devastating devastation. Gender bias, whether unconscious or not, is one of the core factors impacting this, and women are often described as being too emotional or hysterical when seeking medical attention. This reaction results in many women experiencing ongoing healthcare issues, as they are perceived to be fabricating their health issues or falsifying symptoms to seek medical validation.

Mother and babies“: Through audits and confidential inquiries across the UK, it was recognised that these terms were being used against pregnant women who were deemed highly emotional or hypochondriacs. However, their report from 2015 highlighted that 60% of cases that were reviewed could have prevented a baby’s death, with the UK having one in 200 pregnancies resulting in a stillbirth (NPEU, 2020). A number of the women emphasised that they had experienced dismissal when attempting to seek support. Placing both the mother’s and child’s health and well-being in jeopardy. Pregnant women (NPEU, 2020). reported how they felt unvalidated and the desire to feel empathy from their healthcare professions, as some women raised how they handled the healthcare profession and referred to them as being paranoid. Feedback in the report highlighted the need for an attitude change, as many women felt these responses were detrimental to their emotional and physical well-being. Thus, they are at a higher risk of experiencing postpartum depression and other mental health concerns.

Patients expressed that they felt symptoms were diminished and delays occurred to their treatment, particularly for those experiencing endometriosis, or that their healthcare professionals had limited knowledge of the health issues. Therefore, a demand for further supportive training is needed. The additional training is not limited to other subject knowledge but also to the further development of interpersonal skills, particularly effective communication. There is an expectation that healthcare workers can effectively communicate with their patients, ensuring patient engagement and recovery, and often poor communication results in a fragmented care plan. The inability to communicate and be an active listener contributes to the negative consequences women experience when seeking medical attention.

The definition of gaslighting is associated with domestic abuse victims. However, the sense of being repetitive and being told that these symptoms or problems being experienced are being dismissed enforces the hysterical image of women. Further recognition of medical gaslighting is needed, as valid patient concerns are being ignored, resulting in missed opportunities. Society’s culture depends on healthcare professionals; they are the organisation’s front line. If a patient repetitively attends to their doctors and receives a brush-off, there could be an increased risk of lateness or misdiagnosis. The expectation of upholding the values of the healthcare sector, of respect, dignity, emotional support, and patient-lead informed decision-making, is not being achieved. Overcoming and defeating the gaslighting culture with patients is a vital step. Allowing women to talk openly and feel their healthcare workers listen attentively will build a stronger relationship between patients and healthcare professionals. But arguably, more importantly, it allows addressing their healthcare concerns without feeling overshadowed by doubt. In a 2018 report, it was highlighted that women patients were deemed time-wasters, hysterical, or wasting healthcare professionals’ time when seeking assistance.

Several interventions are needed to reduce the barriers to women’s healthcare further. Firstly, the healthcare worker needs a more holistic approach to establish the interdepended and connection between biological, social, psychological, and spiritual aspects, providing more insight into how to support their patient. Developing this foundation could create further open discussions, such as domestic abuse. Thus, building more networks for support for victims. To remedy the issues raised by the Let’s talk about it survey, a consensus of recognising the need to raise awareness of women’s health issues and the need for further empowerment of women to allow an opportunity to advocate and query their concerns. Personalised care programmes can be formed, tailoring to the women’s specific needs, improving the person’s quality of life. The importance of personalisation in the care sector needs to be reconsidered; however, it’s expected to be standard practice; as highlighted in the report, many women felt invisible and as though their experiences and health histories were being neglected. 

With doctors, surgeries are overprescribed to patients and the limited ability of extensive appointment time. NHS explained that typical general practice appointments are an average of 10 minutes. The allowance of extended time allows patients to discuss their health needs and demonstrate a more holistic approach. Developing an opportunity to create a more inclusive, supportive environment that is not time-limited to 10 minutes will allow women to feel more comfortable sharing their concerns. Women expressed their limitations in timing, resulting in feeling rushed, unheard and felt a focal point was only available on one health concern. Yet many had multiple problems or symptoms that were not yet explored. 

Gender and medical research bias is significantly impacting women’s health. There has been a disproportionate focus on men in several medical research, which has resulted in a narrowing of the understanding of conditions such as autism, ADHD and chronic pain. Therefore impacting the ability to recognise particular symptoms of healthcare issues in women. By addressing the research gap, new knowledge on methodologies for addressing a more comprehensive range of health issues could arise. The National Institute for Health and Care Research explained that a long-term focus is needed on addressing inclusivity in research and the evidence gaps within healthcare research. More diverse research will ensure there is a reflection of women’s experiences. 

Addressing many of these concerns would result in substantial health gains for women. By having improved open communication, there would be an opportunity to establish the connection between multiple syndromes, which could result in early detection and prevention of healthcare issues. The World Health Organisation launched 2017 a guide to cancer early diagnosis, highlighting the importance of early discussions and testing if there are concerns about cancer risks. The report highlighted that effective strategies of early diagnosis embedded with effective communication could result in saving lives

Mental health is a core area which needs to be addressed in society, in-particular post-Covid, which has seen an incline in mental health diagnoses. By re-developing the approaches of healthcare professionals and managing communication with patients, we could develop a more positive environment improving women’s mental health and well-being by reducing the pressures and anxiety associated with discussing mental health and providing opportunities to feel heard. The point highlighted in the report’s opening is that women feel unheard in the healthcare sector.

Natalie Quinn-Walker is a lecturer in public health and deputy course lead at Birmingham City South Campus – Seacole.

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