Gender bias is still common in doctors’ offices across America. Despite a lot of good reporting and widespread discussion of the problem, it continues to affect the lives of millions of women every day.
By one estimate, misdiagnosis affects one in every 20 Americans, with 12 million patients every year receiving a wrong diagnosis. Studies repeatedly show women and people of color carry a disproportionate share of the burdens of delayed and/or wrong diagnoses.
TODAY published a series of articles last year on gender bias in medicine in hopes of shining “a light on women fighting to feel well, the under-reported medical challenges that affect women’s health and the doctors who are pushing for change.”
The hazards of “bikini medicine”
One such article focuses on the ways medical professionals and patients alike think in terms of “bikini medicine,” the tendency to think of women as “little men” with a few replacement parts that complicate matters. Women patients, for example, sometimes forgo the full annual physical and instead get only a mammogram and pap smear.
One study from Copenhagen found that health problems such as cancer and diabetes are diagnosed on average about four years later in women than in men.
Patients and diseases have gendered appearances
As the director of the Women’s Hormone and Menopause Program at Cedars-Sinai reminded readers, “Every cell in our body is different. It has different genetic makeup.” The same medical condition often presents significantly different signs and symptoms in men and women. And men and women tend to talk about their symptoms, concerns and questions differently.
Among other consequences of gender bias is the failure of doctors to believe what women patients say. As the Cedars-Sinai doctor said, “And then I have a lot of patients who were told that their experiences were psychosomatic or in your head.”
Standing up for ourselves
Among other suggestions experts offer for women trying to navigate their way to a correct diagnosis is to stick to your gut by questioning diagnoses that seem wrong. Also, they say, consider getting a second opinion or switching doctors if you feel your current doctor is dismissing or ignoring your concerns.