December 09, 2020
Nowadays, in some countries, 80%1 of women still feel obliged to seek permission from their husbands to visit health centers. Three times more women suffer from autoimmune diseases than men2. 62%3 of women in developed countries say they lack the time to do what they know they should to stay healthy. Women are not just often denied access to quality care, they are also discriminated against in the delivery of this care.
Laurence Hontarrède, Chief Prospective and CSR Officer of BNP Paribas Cardif, explains how these barriers can be addressed through technology.
Accessing to mental healthcare
Regarding mental healthcare for example, twice as many women experience depression or post-traumatic stress disorder over their lifetime as men4. Indeed, cultural stigma and constraints particular to women prevent them from seeking and acquiring the mental healthcare they need. In low-income countries, the financial aspects keep women from accessing mental healthcare services. It is particularly blatant in remote and rural areas. But in developed countries the problem exists too.
In the UK, 44%5 of pregnant women did not tell their doctor about their symptoms of antenatal depression because they did not want to be labelled “mentally ill”. Luckily, I believe emerging technology-based solutions can help to diminish barriers to accessing mental healthcare, by providing information, accessible and private therapy services, and by addressing some of the key mental health stressors women face, such as domestic violence, safety, and reproductive health. Bright Sky is an app allowing users to locate their nearest domestic violence support centre. The app also enables users to record incidents in a secure journal tool, using text, audio, video or photos.
Reducing the distance and shortage of doctors
The distance and the shortage of doctors is a barrier that limit physically the access to care. The connectivity between a patient and her network of healthcare providers is qualified as the “last-mile” issue. In both the developing and developed countries, rural inhabitants face lower life expectancy, poorer health status and a shortage of healthcare providers. Rural patients may travel hours to the nearest specialist. The further they live from healthcare, the less they use health services. Disproportionately, it is women who forego their health in the face of such physical barriers because they may not drive a vehicle, and their mobility may be limited by social and cultural factors.
Technologies enable remote therapy, diagnostics and patient monitoring. Thus healthcare providers can reach more women wherever they are. Telemedicine avoids overburdening healthcare workers. One example of startup that solves a part of the issue is eCompliance, a portable biometric tracking system to treat tuberculosis in rural and slum communities across India where cannot visit a health centre in person.
Improving the studies with personalized data
There are also research matters. Women and men have different health outcomes, due to lifestyle, environmental, behavioral and biological differences at the molecular and cellular level. Moreover, women’s symptoms may look different from men’s, but men’s symptoms are regarded as the default. A “one size fits all” approach to care can put women at a dangerous disadvantage in accessing care. Even where there is data, clinicians can be under-equipped to treat women, or dismiss women patients due to entrenched biases and stereotypes about women’s care. This is a particular issue for women in remote areas, who are particularly under-represented in health datasets.
Technology can address that barrier. Precision medicine defined by an individual patient’s genetic code or unique biologic response can personalize treatment. Digital platforms allow on demand real time expertise through sensors and telemedicine as well. LifeStory Health is an application using AI and another advanced technology to map biomarkers in menstrual blood to drive solutions to better understand female biology and thus to expand clinical utility and create new testing paradigms. It is a concrete way to fight against gender biases.
Providing fast and affordable access to care
The lack of means to pay or time-poverty is another key barrier for women. Whether in developing or developed markets, it can take significant time and money to access care. Thus people living in poverty are at greater risk for health status deterioration, chronic illness and premature death than wealthier people. But even if services are free at the point of access, women often need to take the time out to travel to clinics and wait for services to be provided. Lacking time because women play the role of “chief medical officers” of their families such as caring for children and relatives, they arbitrate their own health for the benefit of that of their family.
Technology is particularly relevant to address those issues because it tends to reduce costs and enable access to expertise remotely. Telemedicine is particularly useful to link remote or understaffed health clinics to larger or better staffed facilities, enable health professionals to monitor patients remotely for example monitoring of pulmonary, cardiac, or fetal medical data. Telemedicine enables fast and affordable access to care for women and their families. In the current sanitary crisis, telemedicine including tele-consultation is more than ever relevant to both provide healthcare and respond to the social and physical distancing.
The Women & Access to Health Daring Circle
The Women & Access to Health Daring Circle is an initiative of the Women’s Forum for the Economy & Society, bringing together an ecosystem of partners to improve women’s access to health. BNP Paribas is an active partner of the Health Daring Circle. That’s why, as member, we were enthusiastic to contribute to the White Paper about women’s access to health published at the end of 2019. The results of months of collaborative work have highlighted the fact that women are less likely than men to have access to qualified, equipped, and appropriate health services where and when they are needed. We call governments, businesses, universities, and NGOs to be fully aware and to act to redress these biases and encourage a new generation of health technologies to fight these inequalities.
1 According to the India Human Development survey.
2 Das, R. (2018). Women’s Healthcare Comes Out Of The Shadows: Femtech Shows The Way To Billion-Dollar Opportunities. Forbes.com.
3 Luce, C.B., Hewlett, S.A., Kennedy, J.T., & Sherbin, L.(2015). The Power of the Purse: Engaging Women Decision Makers for Healthy Outcomes. Center for Talent Innovation.
4 Psychiatry.org. (2019). Mental Health Disparities: Diverse Populations. 5 A UK survey