In the last few months, there's been a flood of academic studies about the impact of patient backlogs and delayed care. But, as we collect data from around the globe and across service lines, one theme is increasingly coming to the fore: holistic women's health is the big loser.
Women's health is more than just 'maternal health.' It's time we treated it as such.
Partly because so few organizations have a structured service line for women's health, it is easy to lose sight of the net impact of delayed health care delivery on women patients. And with birth rates showing an uptick in the past year, health care leaders can be forgiven for imagining a (welcome) return to traditional women's health operations and revenues, largely focused on reproductive health. But a quick survey of global trends related to holistic care for women tells a particularly chilling–yet clear–picture.
- Oncology, Canada—Of women aged 50-74, less than a quarter (24%) had been tested for any type of cancer in the last year. Based on Health Canada recommendations and eligibility for breast/cervical cancer screenings, this figure should be doubled to 50% and constitutes a post-pandemic women's health crisis.
- Behavioral Health, USA—Rates of post-partum depression tripled during the pandemic and given that post-partum depression was already referred to as one of the most prevalent, under-diagnosed conditions in women's health, the actual figure may be much higher.
- Gynecology, UK—A study of NHS backlogs and wait lists by service line found that gynecology wait lists rose by 60% during the pandemic, the largest wait list increase of any NHS service line.
- Gynecology/Pain management, Australia/Canada—New reports suggest a staggering 11% of Australian women suffer from endometriosis, a chronic condition characterized by extreme pain and infertility issues, with the pandemic making detection and treatment even harder. In fact, in Canada, it now takes five years on average for a patient to receive an endometriosis diagnosis.
- Urology, UK—Female urology patients suffering from vaginal prolapse or urinary incontinence are reporting wait times of up to six months for an NHS phone appointment (not even a physical exam); women are far more likely to experience urinary incontinence than men, leading one physician to note, "women bear the brunt," of the urology backlog.
And these are just a handful of stories; the list is long and the scale of this evolving women's health crisis is arguably as unprecedented as the overall post-pandemic backlogs we're seeing. Strangely, the good news is that, given that our backlogs are already being measured not just in months, but in years, this affords providers an opportunity to experiment/innovate with different models of how to deliver women's health care.
Increase co-location of women's services
One of the greatest impediments to making care accessible for women is how disruptive even the most basic visit can be. A routine physical, an annual gynecological screening, and annual diagnostic services like a mammogram or bone density scan make for multiple separate visits.
Increasingly, outpatient clinics like the Ripa Center for Women's Health are co-locating services to enable back-to-back scheduling of these procedures. Their 'half-day for health' program affords patients a three hour block to combine all four appointments referenced above. By co-locating services or block scheduling them, each disaggregated wait time can be consolidated into a single patient pathway.
Embrace new sites of care for women's health services
As a society, we've long-fought the harmful cliché that a woman's place was in the home; yet, strangely, when it comes to women patients, we've designed and operate a health system where a woman's place is in the hospital—often the last place that they want (or need) to be.
With women making the vast majority of health care decisions and spending 29% more per capita on health care than men, health providers can't afford to return to the pre-pandemic status quo of women's health delivery. And that means meeting women where they are most of the time: outside of the hospital.
In fact, Sheba Medical Center has opened a Women's Health Innovation Center which is piloting a program to entirely shift uncomplicated prenatal care to the home. In doing so, they can potentially see many more patients using telehealth and remote patient monitoring while creating a more restful pregnancy for expectant mothers.
Don't lose sight of the latest innovations in FemTech
We are at the 'dawn of the FemTech revolution.' Perhaps more than in any other service line, women's health is being disrupted by life science companies and tech startups whose products offer a wider array of solutions for female-specific conditions than those seen within traditional health systems.
Women are the pre-eminent health care consumer, and FemTech is following the customer (and the money) by holistically addressing stigmatized topics from menstrual health to menopause, while delivering culturally sensitive and tailored care. Health systems need to actively partner with FemTech to expand its reach and redirect it to address existing patient backlogs.
Advisory Board International wants to hear from you. As we research future trends in the delivery of women's health care, we'd love to hear from organizations pursuing similar work who have begun to innovate in this space. If you'd like to share your story with us, please email email@example.com