Standing Up for Women’s Health


June 24, 2024 | Caroline Habrowski

Not surprisingly, women’s healthcare is complex and the challenges women face in healthcare are progressively increasing.

Despite significant advancements in healthcare, there are still substantial gaps and disparities that exist in women’s health. From physical health issues to mental health, safety and healthcare decision-making, the challenges are daunting.

Often women are not only juggling their own healthcare journeys, but many other caregiver obligations, as well.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, women make 80% of healthcare decisions in the United States. Women are more likely to have health insurance and visit the doctor than men. Women are the main medical decision makers in their families and are also more likely to be the caregivers when a child falls ill. Even among women without a spouse or child, 60% are the primary caretaker for a loved one. Women have a significant impact on the health of the entire family.

Despite the role women play in healthcare, there is a significant lack of support for women through their healthcare journey. And if we’re thinking in terms of what should be prioritized, women’s healthcare is prime for a rapid transformation.

Healthcare organizations need to solve for these challenges and disparities affecting women, to ensure women are receiving the comprehensive and effective care they need. This will not only improve healthcare experiences for women but will positively impact entire communities, as well.

Meet Women Where They Are and Where They Need Care

Many factors contribute to the challenges of providing adequate care to women. From economic barriers like high medical care costs and lack of insurance to geographical barriers, including rural areas with fewer healthcare facilities and specialists, access to care can be limited.

To address limitations, healthcare organizations can provide digital solutions, offer care across a variety of channels, and ensure a plan for scaling care to reach even the most marginalized.

In fact, it is estimated that digitally enabled capabilities could reduce medical costs in the United States by as much as $175 billion to $220 billion annually.

Digital tools can not only improve the value of care but help address healthcare accessibility by supporting patients in even the most remote areas. For example, telehealth platforms can enable patients to consult with healthcare providers remotely, mobile apps can help provide personalized health tips and reminders to address medical adherence, and AI-powered virtual assistants can answer health-related questions, check symptoms, and guide patients to appropriate care resources.

Women also need access to care across a variety of channels. Healthcare companies can take their cue from consumer and personal care companies that are leveraging digital channels of engagement especially for women consumers. For instance, Neutrogena has partnered with FitSkin to launch a product called SkinScanner that can be attached to a smartphone and perform a facial analysis of the user through sensor technology. The device works to find products that are suited to the customers’ needs and also provides an option to connect with a dermatologist for expert advice.

To enable support at scale, healthcare organizations must meet women in their home and community as well as schools and workplaces. Home health services enable in-home care for those unable to visit healthcare facilities. Community clinics provide localized healthcare services that are accessible and affordable for those facing economic barriers. For example, where access to care is lacking, midwives are able to provide a network that can significantly improve maternal healthcare in underserved regions. In addition, on-site healthcare services, health education, and wellness programs ensure women have received the comprehensive care they need to lead healthy lives.

Knowing Women Means Understanding Data and Context

We know that sharing patient information among healthcare providers can lead to better health outcomes and a more efficient healthcare system. But what’s the key to unlocking patient data? Trust. Trust is an important determinant of patients’ behaviors and healthcare experiences. In order to build trust, providers must guide patients throughout their healthcare experience, making tailored recommendations and proactively engaging them along the way.

Once you develop trust and unlock patient data (including health information and also website behavior), you’ll be able to deliver personalized communications and experiences that help patients feel heard, understood, supported, and connected. This includes customer journeys that engage patients and improve the patient experience.

This helps providers not only meet the needs of their patients but also be more accessible and relatable, showing up in ways that reflect and understand the diverse background of their patients. This will help build loyalty in the long-run.

Cedars Sinai Health System has revolutionized patient engagement by improving access to care and information through a patient-centric digital experience. They’ve made robust changes to their provider finder experience and have also implemented dynamic, rich, and user-specific content and tailored search results throughout the patient’s healthcare journey. These improvements have set new standards for patient care from the very first touch point in a patient’s experience with Cedars Sinai and will help drive better health outcomes throughout the course of care.

Support Women on Their Personal Healthcare Journey

Improving patient experiences helps women feel supported. It’s not just about improving the 8 minutes spent with a provider or fixing the claims process. Women should be supported at all times in their healthcare journey, regardless of their role (patient, caregiver, medical decision maker).

Support should be proactive versus reactive and extend beyond specific claims or doctor visits to enable continuous care. Support should be holistic, encompassing both emotional and physical health, recognizing that healthcare is more than just visits to the doctor and that mental health is equally important as physical health. Additionally, support should encompass outcomes, transitioning to a value-based care model where payments are made based on health improvements and positive results rather than upfront costs. This ensures that care is truly effective and centered on the well-being of the patient. And that healthcare isn’t just a service but a compassionate, patient-centered journey.

What Will It Take to Achieve Healthcare Transformation for Women?

Women have a tremendously powerful voice in healthcare. And there are a few areas we recommend exploring in order to change the narrative and improve healthcare for women. These include health equity by design, transparency and data, as well as outcomes-based care experiences.

Human-centered design (HCD) is gaining traction in global health. This flexible yet disciplined approach to innovation that prioritizes people's needs and concrete experiences in the design of complex systems is essential, yet challenging – especially for larger organizations. It’s much easier for smaller companies to meet specific, local needs but in order for this to be successful in healthcare, larger-scale undertakings are necessary.

Fitbit uses HCD to create products that are functional and also solve for a specific need – fitness. Fitbit uses HCD to design tools that motivate users to keep going, such as setting goals, tracking exercise, and social fitness challenges. A “Fitbit for illness” could be the start of human-centered healthcare. Patients could use wearables focused on managing symptoms of an illness, rather than improving fitness. This would be an experience that helps propel us into the future.

You also can't fix what you are not seeing, and you can't see what you are not measuring. Measurement, data strategy, and data quality must be areas of focus to see improvements in women’s healthcare. For example, the implementation of electronic health records (EHRs) in community clinics has improved the ability to track and address health disparities. Integrations like this will continue to pave the way in providing better care.

Finally, shifting to outcomes-based care experiences is being employed across the country to help healthcare organizations reduce spending. The framework for change that balances clinical and financial decisions to ensure high-value care must be considered if we are truly going to support women in their healthcare journeys.

Ensuring that women have access to comprehensive healthcare is essential for promoting their overall well-being and health equity. By taking measures to help women receive adequate and effective care, healthcare organizations not only improve the health of women but also enhance the well-being of entire families and communities. This will lead to healthier and more fulfilled lives.