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Targeting Healthcare for Women Patients

Many programs offer a multidisciplinary approach to specific diagnosis and treatment needs.

By Kathleen Hall

Medically Reviewed by Sanjai Sinha, MD

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Women patients may metabolize medications differently and have different symptoms from men.
Women patients may metabolize medications differently and have different symptoms from men.
Paul Bradbury/Getty Images

Hospitals and medical institutions across the country are offering more programs specifically designed with the needs of women patients in mind.

While many health conditions pose the same risks to men and women, there are often gender-specific differences in how certain diseases develop, in the presentation of signs and symptoms, and how a patient responds to treatment.

“Women’s health needs are affected by reproductive factors, life cycle, hormones, and genetics,” says Holly Thacker, MD, the director of the Center for Specialized Women's Health at Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. “They metabolize some medications differently and can have expressions of disease that are different from those in men.”

Women also approach disease somewhat differently than men, according to Pamela Ouyang, MD, a professor of medicine and the director of the Johns Hopkins Women's Cardiovascular Health Center in Baltimore. “They’re often caught between caring for parents and children or grandchildren. As a result, they may not take as much time for their own health.”

“Women are the primary influencers for health — for themselves, their family, and their friends,” says Sharon Bittner, the chief communications officer at Relevate Health Group, a healthcare consultancy firm in St. Petersburg, Florida.

When Conditions Differ in Women

Differences in how women develop some diseases and respond to treatment can have serious health implications.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States. Yet only 54 percent of women recognize that heart disease is their No. 1 killer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Women don’t think what they’re experiencing is a heart attack,” says Dr. Ouyang. “They don’t see themselves as being at risk for heart attack and cardiovascular disease, even though it’s a leading cause of death for women.”

Certain distinctive aspects of heart disease in women can make it harder to spot and treat early on. “When we think about heart attacks, the development of atherosclerosis (blockages in the coronary arteries) occurs at a later age in women,” Ouyang says. “Women can develop heart attacks, but the underlying changes that are going on in the arteries to the heart can be very different than in men.”

The symptoms of a heart attack also present differently in women. While many heart attack patients experience classic chest pain or pressure, Ouyang says women have a greater likelihood of other kinds of symptoms, such as shortness of breath without chest discomfort. They may also experience pain in their arms, back, neck, or jaw.

The cardiovascular program at Johns Hopkins provides targeted risk assessment and evaluation of symptoms, lifestyle management, diagnostic testing, and treatment specifically for women.

Conditions More Common in Women

Women’s hospitals and health programs also specialize in conditions specific to women, from adolescence through post-menopause. Services offered typically include gynecological health screenings, family planning, prenatal obstetrics care, and mammography.

Dr. Hacker of the Cleveland Clinic says an interdisciplinary women’s health center can offer a rounded approach to treatment and address multifactorial health problems such as sexual dysfunction, bladder leakage, and autoimmune conditions that affect fertility and bone health.

These health programs take into account that women have higher incidences of conditions such as autoimmune disorders, depression, and osteoporosis.

“We have rheumatologists because autoimmune disease rates are higher in women than men. We have gastroenterologists that focus on irritable bowel syndrome because that’s a common condition in women,” says Nieca Goldberg, MD, the medical director of the Joan H. Tisch Center for Women’s Health at New York University's Langone Health in New York City.

Domestic Violence as a Health Priority

Anne Arundel Medical Center (AAMC), a regional healthcare system based in Annapolis, Maryland, offers comprehensive women’s services including a domestic violence program. “We recognize domestic violence as a primary health risk for women,” says Maura Callanan, the vice president of AAMC’s women’s and children’s services program.

AAMC trains its physicians in how to recognize and ask about signs of domestic violence and what to do if a patient says she’s experiencing abuse.

“Our electronic medical records provide screening documentation for providers to also ask questions during well-woman exams,” Callanan says. “Data shows that pregnancy is often a time of increased risk and initial onset of domestic violence, making it even more important for women’s care providers to make this assessment part of ob-gyn care.”

Communication Is Key

“Communication is so much an important part of helping a person gain optimal health,” says Dr. Goldberg. While that is true of all quality healthcare, she believes that some patients appreciate the more targeted approach.

Many patients, Goldberg says, “are looking for doctors who focus on women’s healthcare.






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Date: 11.12.2018, 10:19 / Views: 82395