Education, Health, and Safety

Healthcare Disparities in Women’s Reproductive Health

Maria Lopes, MD: Health care disparities are a huge issue, not only in women’s health but in every aspect of health. COVID-19 has only exacerbated the issue. We are seeing from a public health perspective that women haven’t been able to present the COVID-19 impact: offices and outpatient services have been closed, children and women are staying home. This has delayed screening and prevention, whether it’s mammography, cervical cancer screening, or routine care. Now that we’re trying to reestablish a new normal, there’s a significant capacity issue. If you’re trying to see your PCP [primary care provider] or nurse practitioner, OB-GYN [obstetrician-gynecologist], family practice person, you may not be able to get in for 2 or 3 months, that’s often the reality. Many OB-GYN practices, if they have a nurse practitioner and you’re coming in for a routine exam, you’re going to be seen by a nurse practitioner. We have demand with a capacity problem, and with health care disparities, this becomes even more obvious. There are delays in seeking care, so when you present, if you have a condition that could have been addressed earlier, now it’s a much bigger issue. We’ve also seen cancer on the rise, cervical and rectal cancer, as a function of the screening rates having dropped.

Health care disparities are a huge issue. We think, how do we bring care to the patient’s home? How do we create increased awareness so that hopefully patients are presenting in a timelier manner? We’ve been covering telehealth visits; during COVID-19, unlimited telehealth. But I think we all recognize that there’s demand, there’s a need for screening prevention, wellness, and access to care in a timely manner that we need to resolve in a better way. There’s also the ability of digital technology. In areas like mental health, diabetes, we’re seeing innovation around digital solutions that can connect with patients in a personalized way and be able to educate and connect with care management. Hopefully, we’re bridging some of these gaps around access to care in a timely manner, but it’s challenging when you think about what women’s health can look like. If somebody has bleeding and pain, [we need to figure out] how to bring this to the attention of a health care professional care manager so that there’s sensitivity to what the patient’s experiencing, and further dialogue in terms of treatment options, while hopefully, escalating care appropriately.

This transcript has been edited for clarity.

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