December 2, 2002 – Women's Side of Healthcare 

Women's side of health care

W omen’s health issues affect about 25 percent of PPG’s work force—and all the spouses and daughters in the PPG family, as well.

While there are commonalities, women’s health concerns differ greatly from those of men. Besides obvious physiological differences, some common problems present themselves differently or are misinterpreted because of cultural bias, according to Dr. Alberto Colombi, PPG’s corporate medical director.

“For example, cardiovascular disease is the leading killer of men and women alike in the United States, but more than a third of women at risk of heart attacks are not aware they may exhibit different symptoms than men do,” Colombi said.

In addition, studies suggest females may not receive the care they deserve because of involuntary discrimination on the part of health-care providers.

“Studies show the medical community pays less attention to women when it comes to health care. This bias is not intentional, rather it is an issue of cultural awareness and competence,” Colombi said. “This is important, because PPG and our employees are entitled to the same quality of care -- for the same health-care dollar and health insurance coverage. If one segment of our work force is unfairly receiving less care, that detracts from the quality we’re getting from the overall health-care system.”

In the study “The Effect of Race and Sex on Physicians’ Recommendations for Cardiac Catheterization” (published in the Feb. 25, 1999 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine), 720 physicians watched a video and reviewed data about a hypothetical patient with chest pain. Numerous actors, who varied by age, sex and race, portrayed patients on the video and followed a script about symptoms. After each doctor reviewed a patient’s data and interview, he or she was asked to recommend a course of care. The results showed that women and African-Americans were less likely to be referred for cardiac catheterization than men and whites, respectively. In fact, the odds of a woman to be referred for catheterization were only 60 percent that of a man with equal symptoms and signs indicating a coronary condition.

Another report, published last fall in The Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics and cited recently in The New York Times, focused on sexual bias in the treatment of pain. “The Girl Who Cried Pain: A Bias Against Women in the Treatment of Pain” concluded that “women’s pain reports are taken less seriously than men’s, and women receive less aggressive treatment than men for their pain.”

These reports “underscore the need for a woman to become educated about her health so she can be more aggressive about her care,” said Colombi. “This also holds true in preventive care. There are many ways a woman can take an active role in ensuring good health.”

Pregnancy is a key health issue for women. By seeking prenatal care early and at regular intervals, a pregnant woman can prevent many problems that affect her and her baby’s quality of life. If unattended or not prevented, these problems also can drive up health-care costs. For every dollar spent on prenatal care, more than $6 could be saved in neonatal intensive care costs, according to a source cited in an October 1996 report from the Washington Business Group on Health.

Breast cancer, another major women’s health issue, will kill an estimated 39,600 U.S. women this year and be diagnosed in an estimated 203,500, according to the Susan B. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. Early detection is a woman’s best protection, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends monthly self-breast exams, plus at least one breast exam by an ob-gyn each year. While the need for mammograms beginning at age 40 is a topic each woman should discuss with her physician, there is consensus about the need for regular mammograms beyond age 50. The professional group also recommends an annual Pap test beginning at age 18 to detect cervical cancer, which is nearly 100-percent curable when caught and treated early.

“Women are also at risk of heart disease, hypertension, stroke, diabetes, osteoporosis and various risk factors, including obesity and inactivity, that can lead to disabilities and affect the quality of life,” Colombi said. “Prevention and education are the keys to living a healthy life, avoiding suffering and lowering health-care costs.”

For more on women’s health-related issues, visit www.womens-health.org.

Did you Know?

  • On average, women feel pain more intensely than men do and are more vulnerable to a variety of painful conditions, according to the article “Hurting More, Helped Less?” in the June 23, 2002 issue of The New York Times.
  • Neonatal intensive care costs for low-birth-weight infants in the United States range from $20,000 to $400,000 per baby, according to a source cited in an October 1996 report from the Washington Business Group on Health.
  • Breast cancer remains a leading cause of cancer-related deaths among U.S. women ages 40-59. But since 1987, more women have died of lung cancer than breast cancer -- possibly caused by increased smoking by women, according to American Cancer Society’s Cancer Facts and Figures, 2001.
  • The Pap test (named after American medical scientist George Papanicolaou) was introduced in the 1940s. Since then, the U.S. cervical cancer death rate has declined by almost 70 percent, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

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