Gender Bias in the Healthcare System may put Women at a Disadvantage

In Medical Malpractice by Michele Mirman

Current, important, controlling studies show beyond doubt that there is gender bias throughout the healthcare system that adversely affects women. Because of bias, women are disadvantaged in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer, stroke, diabetes and especially heart disease. What exactly does this mean for women?

It means that, from the get-go, women are not accurately diagnosed and not properly treated when we present with symptoms of heart disease. Worse, women’s symptoms are most likely to be dismissed by doctors as exaggerated, psychosomatic and not heart-related, dramatically increasing our risk of death. According to the American Heart Association, heart disease kills one out of three women, resulting in 400,000 deaths each year.

There are manifest differences in how symptoms of heart attack present themselves in men and women. The study “Gender Differences in Presentation and Diagnosis of Chest Pain in Primary Care” found that women with coronary heart disease have vastly different symptoms than men.

Men are more likely to have acute chest pain, pain in the left arm, and chest pain localized on the right side of the chest.  Women are more likely to have delayed presentation of chest pain. Moreover, women are more likely to have pain lasting for well over one hour, while men have shorter pain duration.

Despite the documented differences, medical personnel consistently fail to timely act on heart disease in women, simply because of bias. A study out of Switzerland published online in October 2018, entitled “Sex/Gender Bias in the Management of Chest Pain in Ambulatory Care” found that men are 2.5 times more likely to be referred to a cardiologist when presenting with chest pain than women. This failure to take our pain seriously results in more misdiagnoses, more suffering and more deaths for women.

Despite all the studies going back at least twenty years, medical practice does not take gender into account in diagnosis, treatment or management. It is doubtful that these differences are even taught in medical school, where the male gender is modeled, and there is “one-size fits all” medicine. What does this do to women? It leaves us a major victim of medical mismanagement and malpractice.

At Mirman, Markovits & Landau, P.C., I am proud to be part of a team of attorneys working specifically on women’s issues including medical malpractice. Since the start of my career I have had the opportunity to serve many women clients, and I’ve seen firsthand the biases we as women face in the justice system. Every day, as I work to right the wrongs brought by gender bias, I find more and different ways bias haunts us. The birth of my daughter last year inspired me to devote myself further to correcting these wrongs, so that future generations of women will not experience the pervasive gender bias that exists today. We are the best advocates for women because we understand the woman’s perspective and we care.