Raise your hand if you've ever felt dismissed or condescended to by a medical professional?
As women, far too many of us have had this experience. And due to a longstanding bias in the medical research community, female patients are still not taken seriously.
In her book, Doing Harm, journalist and executive director of Feministing.com, Maya Dusenbery argues that the medical world has a "systemic and unconscious bias" against women that stems from "what doctors, regardless of their own gender, are learning in medical schools."
The insane extent of the medical research gender gap
Did you know that 75% of the 50 million people suffering from an autoimmune disease are women? Most autoimmune patients will see five doctors over a period of 4.6 years before they finally receive an accurate diagnosis. That's because common autoimmune disease symptoms such as pain and deep fatigue are often dismissed as an overreaction. The female patient is merely "stressed" or worse, "hysterical".
In her research, Dusenbery found that many women will bring a male relative with them to their doctor's appointments in order to be taken more seriously. As ridiculous as that is, when you consider that women under the age of 55 are seven times more likely to be sent home mid-heart attack, it's not hard to understand why bringing a man to your next checkup might not be such a bad idea.
How female entrepreneurs are closing the gap
Brave women like Maya are making an active effort to balance the scales. But change doesn’t happen overnight.
When our own CEO, Colette Courtion, set out to secure funding for Joylux, she was stunned to find out just how steep the uphill battle really was. “Obviously, men don’t personally experience the embarrassment or discomfort of these symptoms and therefore have difficulty recognizing the significance of the issues,” says Colette in an article for Forbes.
Despite the fact that the US intimate health market is expected to reach $8.8 billion by 2025, only 9% of health tech companies are founded by women. In the venture capital arena, men still hold the purse strings.
Fortunately, we’re not alone in the fight for better women’s healthcare.
Perhaps one of our biggest (and pinkest) allies is Cindy Whitehead. Cindy made massive waves in 2015 when she launched the first ever FDA-approved drug for low sexual desire in women (called “female Viagra” by the media). Today, Cindy is the fearless leader behind The Pink Ceiling, an incubator and mentorship firm helping women-led and women focused businesses gain ground.
And more and more female entrepreneurs are indeed gaining ground. In 2015, Kate Ryder founded Maven, the first telemedicine platform for women. Not only does Maven provide new mothers with anytime access to doctors specialized in women's health, they also offer women-specific mental health treatment.
“Women’s mental health is so different than men’s mental health, particularly when it comes to maternal health. If you have a miscarriage, that is just as much a mental health issue as a physical health issue, and there’s no support. All of our providers on the mental health side specialize in maternal mental health and women’s issues," says Kate in an interview with Coveteur.
The road ahead
Innovative entrepreneurs like Ryder are stepping up to the plate, but due to the fact that startup investors are usually male, and because of the lack of medical evidence on women's health issues, it's much harder for female-focused startups to get the funding they need in order to bring their innovations to market.
It's a vicious cycle. Women have been left out of both pharmaceutical and observational research trials since the 1970s. Researchers didn't want the extra work of having to control for the changing levels in women's hormones during pregnancy, breastfeeding, postpartum and menopause. But these differences between male and female physiology is exactly why more research and better treatments are needed.
Leaders like Dr. Janine Clayton, Director of the NIH Office of Research on Women's Health are providing hope for equality in medical care. In 2015, over 50% of the participants in NIH-supported clinical research were women. It would appear that things are finally changing.
But any search on Clinicaltrials.gov will show you just how far we have yet to go. Today, there are 398 erectile dysfunction studies compared to just 133 female sexual dysfunction studies, that's almost double the amount of research on men versus women.
At vFit, we're proud to be part of the movement for gender equality in healthcare. And we're not going to stop until more women get the quality care they deserve.