From Davina McCall’s ‘Sex, Myths and the Menopause’ documentary to new research pointing to asthma treatments failing female sufferers, a momentum has started to better highlight the male skew in healthcare.
This impacts all aspects of healthcare; so much of medicine is based on male physiology, there is a shortfall in female clinical trial participants, medicines’ dosing is based on male response, and too much of women’s healthcare focuses on their reproductive cycle, such as fertility, childbearing and the menopause.
So, while women on average live longer than men, women spend a greater proportion of their lives in ill-health and disability. The NHS is under ever-greater strain, and the risk is this will exacerbate the already underserving of women by the system.
This all highlights the need for significant behaviour change. That requires, among other things, improved communications from all involved. I’m lucky enough to work with some incredible advocates for this change – not least including Dr Shirin Lakhani, a powerhouse promoting change when it comes to intimate health and equality in the field of sexual dysfunction. ‘Women have previously been seen simply as a vessel for child bearing,’ she says.
High-profile appointments and celebrities supporting a cause have an important role; look at the improved awareness of bowel cancer symptoms thanks to the work of the wonderful and inspiring, late Dame Deborah James, @Bowelbabe.
From a communications perspective, it’s fundamentally important that we, as PR experts, take the time to ensure that we have the required knowledge to enable us to share these messages in a powerful way – in a way that is strong enough to ensure that a movement takes place that will evoke change.
A stale press release shared once quarterly will do nothing to achieve what really needs to be done to ensure a better future for women.
An important aspect of improving women’s health outcomes is better understanding that women’s symptoms might differ to men’s. For instance, women are disproportionately impacted by cardiovascular disease – despite the common misconception that it affects men more. Women are more likely to die from a heart attack because they present with symptoms synonymous with heartburn – nausea, indigestion, and general discomfort. They are therefore overlooked by people more familiar with the male manifestation of a pain in their arm. Let’s think about where the marketing is focused here – it’s not aimed at the female symptoms, is it. We all know to look for the pain in the arm, but marketing often forgoes the other symptoms.
For me, communications needs a hard reset – it needs to be disruptive and noisy. For long-term improvement, the medical school curriculum must change so that future doctors are educated with less bias; and the pharmaceutical industry must improve its recruitment of women to clinical trials to ensure future drug treatments are fully researched and tested equally among the sexes.
As Dr Lakhani explained in a recent release, ‘At present, I feel that women continue to be hugely let down by the healthcare system. Traditionally, the healthcare system has predominantly viewed women and their bodies as simply being the carrier of babies. So while perinatal care has been viewed with a greater degree of importance, female health before and after birth sadly often gets ignored. Women are routinely underrepresented in clinical trials too, which doesn’t help with research.
‘Mandatory training for doctors in England on female health is not only long overdue but also extremely necessary. Putting this in place will help to improve awareness and treatment of women’s medical conditions going into the future, ensuring that women aren’t forced to continue suffering in silence or not getting the treatment that they deserve.’
But while advocates in the industry can push to make change, as communication experts, and women, we owe it to ourselves and to our daughters as the future generation, to communicate a much healthier future.
We have the power to evoke change through the word choices that we make within our releases, the language we choose to avoid, the clients we choose to represent and the passion that we put into our comms to push messages that we know can change things for the better.