Gender bias in medicine returns to the public spotlight

Friday October 4, 2019

Unfortunately, women’s stories of experiencing misdiagnoses, delayed diagnoses or failures to diagnose are not hard to find. If you aren’t a woman who’s experienced it yourself, ask around. You may be surprised by what you hear.

This year, a flurry of media attention sounded the alarm about challenges women experience getting their symptoms taken seriously and receiving the right diagnostic tests and referrals. Such alarms have been sounded many times before.

Diagnosis blind spots affect women disproportionately

Until relatively recently, medical studies ordinarily relied exclusively on male subjects. It was only in 1998 that the FDA required safety and efficacy of new drugs to be reported by sex, age and race. By 2000, the FDA could put certain trials on hold if they didn’t include women.

Today, the culture of medicine still has work to do. Examples of gender bias abound. Although heart disease is the primary killer of women, only 42% of cardiologists and 22% of primary care physicians report feeling well prepared to assess women’s risk of cardiovascular disease.

Medical malpractice suits and gender bias

When a woman is harmed or experiences pain and suffering due to gender bias in the medical profession, can medical professionals be sued?

Medical malpractice suits can be deeply complex, involving a wide array of medical, legal and personal variables. But a common test of whether your doctor’s care was malpractice is whether your doctor fell short of the “standard of care.”

Changing women’s standard of care

Standards of care are not universal. They’re based on what would usually be expected of a doctor in the same field with a similar background, presented with a similar case in a similar practice in a comparable community at the same moment in history. That standard can be tough to define, let alone show it wasn’t met.

If you believe you’ve suffered from inadequate medical care, it’s best to consult with a qualified malpractice attorney to consider your full range of options. Generally, any care that falls below the standard of care might be vulnerable to a medical malpractice suit, regardless of whether the shortfall was based on gender.

As progress in women’s healthcare is (presumably) made, the standard of care for diagnosis and treatment of women may change and/or improve, moving the frontier of malpractice lawsuits. For now, it is still a significant problem when women come to their doctors convinced that something is wrong and their concerns are ignored or downplayed.

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