Women’s health needs more focus in order to improve the biological and social issues faced by women that have gone unchanged for too long

Healthcare industry leaders have always had to navigate a complex web of governance, political decisions, and research and development initiatives with the ultimate goal of promoting a healthier population. Yet it is disheartening that women’s health continues to be undervalued, under-researched and unequal. The general subject of women’s health can easily be dismissed as a “niche market” in the industry, exacerbating delays in research or advancements. It is quite surprising that in 2023, half of the population’s health still lacks the financial support and research needed to enhance overall wellness. Fortunately, as digital health technologies continue to advance, there is hope that we will soon gather the necessary data to overcome the pervasive challenges in women’s healthcare.

Here are a few of the most significant issues that need continued focus.

Investment in Women’s Health
It is concerning that despite the urgent need for progress in women’s health, the healthcare industry has remained, for the most part, financially indifferent. According to a report by McKinsey last year, only 1% (yes, you read that correctly) of healthcare research funding is dedicated to female-specific conditions beyond oncology.

Investing in women’s health is crucial, especially for reducing the disease burden among women, such as breast cancer and reproductive challenges. Governments and other healthcare policymakers play a vital role in supporting this need by directing additional funding towards research and development specifically focused on women’s health. But it is imperative that all healthcare systems allocate more funds towards reproductive health and related research, or toward third-party innovations that can move the needle on data-gathering or accessibility challenges.

Insufficient Research Efforts
The outdated nature of much research on women’s health has been a prevalent conflict, of course. In the past, studies have had minimal or inadequate representation of women in clinical trials, making it a challenge to understand how diseases may manifest differently in women or how to provide the most effective treatment.

There is hope for a solution. By utilizing the wealth of healthcare data currently available and potentially accessible, we can investigate trends and design targeted clinical trials that focus on female health.

And despite making significant progress over the past few decades, it is essential to re-evaluate policies on women’s healthcare and push policymakers to consider the spectrum of women’s health. Regulations on women’s reproductive health have posed significant obstacles to improving healthcare for women overall. It is crucial for companies to understand how limiting regulations can impact their services, offerings and, ultimately, their revenue.

Gender as a Social Determinant of Health
Women face several unique social determinants of health that can have a negative impact on their overall well-being. Factors such as occupational segregation, gender inequality, domestic violence and discrimination are baseline examples. The healthcare industry can help address these challenges by improving accessibility and availability of healthcare services for women. Notwithstanding, the recent Medicaid unwinding following COVID provisions will not only affect 8.3 million adults, but disproportionately affect children, with 5.3 million losing enrollment in the service. Since we know that women are far more likely to be in charge of caregiving, regardless of their career, it stands to reason that women will in turn take the hit from children with a lack of coverage. Taking a holistic approach to women’s health by considering the social and environmental factors that can affect a person—not to mention the intersection of women’s health and race, sexuality and/or disability—is critical in ensuring that women receive the care they need.

Hot topic: Menopause Research and Treatment
Despite menopause being a normal stage of life for women, it is surprising to see that there is still limited research conducted on this specific female condition. Women’s healthcare often focuses on issues like incontinence or hot flashes and neglects the overall continuum of care during menopause.

But there seems to be an uptick recently in menopause education and research, as well as with investor interest in the topic, indicating that perhaps we are seeing a turning tide. What began as fertility tracker apps is now evolving into a push from consumers for more insights from the digital healthcare landscape. Investing in research and development of innovative treatments for menopausal symptoms is crucial. We can support women during menopause by facilitating more research and providing the push for continued interest.

The Wrap Up
Addressing women’s health issues is a crucial aspect of healthcare and requires more attention from healthcare policymakers and service providers alike.

Here at Zelis, we have a vested interest in women’s health because more than 60% of our workforce are female (yes, I’m proud we’re trending higher than the national average). Our flexible paid time off policies coupled with People & Culture staff dedicated to supporting medical-related leaves of absence ensure our associates have the paid time they need. For our female associates, this includes medical leaves related to menstruation and menopause.

Investing in women’s health, addressing social determinants of health, eliminating roadblocking regulations, increasing research in women’s intersectional healthcare and expanding research in female-specific conditions like menopause are the initial steps towards achieving equity and providing quality care for women. It is through these comprehensive and collaborative efforts within the industry that we can begin to holistically address wellness, and guarantee women’s health isn’t an afterthought.

Until next time, stay well.