VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – BC’s health care system is failing women, according to a report released Wednesday which finds many feel they are simply not being heard by their doctors.
Just over half interviewed by the BC Women’s Health Foundation say they feel a physician had diminished their symptoms, regardless of the doctor’s gender.
The report, In Her Words, finds 31 per cent of the 1,000 women interviewed feel their needs are not being met by BC’s health care system. That number increases to 54 per cent for women under the age of 45, to 58 per cent for those with chronic conditions and to 60 per cent for Indigenous women.
The report also concludes doctors are more likely to diagnose women’s pain as psychological, are less likely to admit women for testing, and are inclined to give women less pain medication than men.
To drive home the point, In Her Words also highlights the personal stories of women who have struggled through BC’s health care system.
Among them is “Lindsay,” who spent decades living with undiagnosed endometriosis, suffering through years of pain, endless ER visits, exams, ultrasounds, and CT scans only to be told repeatedly that “you just have bad periods”. She says gradually, the pain took over her life — she isolated herself and at times felt she couldn’t go on any longer.
Eventually, it was a visit to nurse practitioner for an unrelated matter that led to a correct diagnosis and she was soon told a hysterectomy would solve all her problems.
But Lindsay’s own research led her to wonder if her endometriosis was growing outside the uterus and she was unsure about undergoing the drastic procedure.
However, getting a second opinion would mean waiting another six months for an appointment, cancelling the scheduled hysterectomy, and then waiting to be scheduled for a new surgery.
“It was an agonizing decision at a time when I sincerely considered whether ending my life would be preferable to continuing in my current state,” Lindsay says, but she made an appointment with a specialist at BC Women’s Hospital and put off the surgery.
The doctor said Lindsay’s endometriosis was, indeed, outside of her uterus and with its atypical colouring, it was unlikely to have been recognized or removed by her former gynaecologist.
Today, nearly 10 months after surgery Lindsay says she has her life back.
“The absence of pain has made room for joy again,” she says. “It took too long for me to hear the ‘e word’. But I’m grateful I finally did.”
Her advice for others is to, “listen to your gut, do your research, ask the hard questions and push for the best care possible – you deserve it.”
Dr. Lori Brotto, executive director of the Women’s Health Research Institute, says it is not uncommon for women to say it takes them three-to-five years to get an accurate diagnosis after seeing countless health care providers.
“They are often told their symptoms must be psychological, they must be in your head, you need to go home and relax, or this is just a normal part of aging,” she tells NEWS 1130.
“I’m not too surprised at the findings of the survey because they mirror the stories I hear among my own patients.”
Dr. Brotto — who worked on the report — believes much more needs to be done to address unconscious gender bias among health care providers.
“First of all, we can do bias training of our doctors — we need educational systems that name it and help people identify it. We also need better investment in women’s health research, which is notoriously underfunded,” she explains.
“For woman themselves, if they are feeling dismissed and feeling ignored, don’t stand by but seek a second opinion. Speak up, stand up and ensure you get the health care you need.”
Read the full report:In-Her-Words_News-Release_FINAL