The relationship women have with the healthcare service industry in the U.S. is a complicated one. Although family planning sometimes dominates national headlines, the issue of women's health is much more dynamic and complex. Social and biological factors work to create a unique situation that demands attention and specific solutions from providers and healthcare organizations.
Health IT can play an integral role in promoting access, reducing costs and improving the quality of care for women across the country. Here are just some of the ways digital solutions and new technologies are working to change women's health for the better.
Addressing chronic illness
Women in the U.S. have different healthcare needs than men in important ways. As the National Conference of State Legislatures pointed out, women live longer and tend to access healthcare services more often. In a lifetime, a female patient may therefore visit a doctor or local hospital more often than a male counterpart.
This difference is especially important to consider in the context of chronic illness. According to the most recent statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2010, 86 percent of all healthcare expenditures went toward treating patients with one or more chronic medical ailments. This statistic in and of itself demands attention for an industry trying to become more financial sustainable. As health IT solutions have become more ubiquitous, providers have been able to better leverage evidence-based practices and preventative care models because of easier data capture and information exchange. Any improvements in chronic care management and mitigation could disproportionately affect women because this demographic shows higher instances of illness for some of the most prevalent conditions.
For example, 42 percent of female patients die within one year of a heart attack, compared to 24 percent of male patients, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Many types of cancer affect women at higher rates as well, according to the American Cancer Society, and diseases such as multiple sclerosis, lupus, depression and many others are more common in female patients.
In leveraging electronic health records and tracking trends using population-level data, providers can not only offer better, more personalized care but also uncover new trends and best practices related to some of the most common and difficult chronic conditions. For female patients who face this issues at a higher rate, improved treatment options will make a more meaningful impact.
Promoting access and reducing costs
Because women have higher instances of chronic disease, female patients may access healthcare services more often than men. At the same time, because this group lives longer, women spend more time in the final chapter of life, a period marred by more complicated health needs. The use of an EHR system may be more instrumental for women in both of these instances. Health IT may play a different role in women's health beyond care management, however.
A report published by Boundless Sociology found that women statistically pay higher insurance premiums than men. In the past, it was assumed this was due to greater use of services, different beliefs around contraception and other issues. By making care more proactive and addressing financial sustainability, however, providers can overcome this barrier.
Providers must make use of patient portals, telehealth and other systems to coordinate with female patients and identify plans to nurture preventative behavior. The use of health IT solutions like this make care more affordable for patient and provider, which for women in particular may be especially helpful.
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, digital solutions are quickly becoming an integral part of daily care delivery. The ability to store and share data improves the quality of treatment, while remote access to physician instructions or educational resources has the potential to reduce safety concerns around medication. Alerts and reminders serve to gently promote best practices among patients.
The source also found better data capture drives evidence-based care. Certain treatments or interventions become more accurate, but patients also more actively participate in their care. All told, the same benefits that health IT offers to providers and patients in other specialties have been impactful in gynecology. The use of digital exam tools that test for cervical cancer and other diseases that can automatically populate an EHR is especially promising.
As the Reproductive Health Technology Project found, family planning revolves around four pillars: Prevention, deciding to get pregnant, treatment and care, and deciding not to be pregnant. In each realm, there are specific technologies and resources that can support female patients, but improved communication using EHR patient portals is especially important.
A number of mobile apps help women in family planning and managing reproductive health, but a primary care physician or OBGYN is an essential educational resource and supportive ally as well. Through digital communication, patients can ask questions, give updates and work with a health professional to prevent any adverse conditions or concerns. From puberty through menopause, remote access to a doctor's advice and care can make a big difference in mitigating risk.
Better imaging techniques and the ability to store and share ultrasounds and other information is also quite promising. This allows for more accurate care and an ability for physicians, specialists and patients to collaborate.
Like other areas in healthcare, improved engagement and an emphasis on proactive solutions are both critical to improving outcomes and reducing costs. Because women have unique needs and a special relationship with the industry, this group may see added benefit from continued adoption of health IT solutions.