The Future of Healthcare: Why We Need a Female Focused Paradigm Shift

The Future of Healthcare: Why We Need a Female Focused Paradigm Shift

Kathryn Kos, NTP, M.Ed

We have a dream of what healthcare should look like. We fight for a functional approach to wellness and treating the root cause rather than symptoms alone. However, what about our male-focused approach to clinical trials and patient care? The current model of research and medical protocols is male-centered, and the burnout rate for female physicians and practitioners under the age of 45 is on the rise! We are not meeting the needs of our female practitioners and our female patients.

How is Healthcare “Male Centered”?

Women are not happy with the current system of healthcare, and women make up a large percentage (around 50%) of our population! Historically, women’s bodies have always been met with judgments and misconceptions. Women face an uphill battle, just to receive quality health care. Women’s reported symptoms, especially pain, are often seen as an emotional imbalance and not taken seriously.

Researchers found that women rate the hospital significantly lower than men, especially higher educated women and women between the ages of 18 and 44 years. Behaviors of nurses were perceived to be unsatisfactory by substantially more female patients than male patients.1

Scientific clinical trials are also based on a primarily male model. Although we are biologically very different, researchers historically use male subjects in clinical trials to determine medication efficacy.

  • The Physicians Health Study, concluding that low-dose aspirin may lower your risk for heart disease, included 22,000 men and no women.2
  • Researchers tested female libido-boosting drugs on 25 participants, yet 23 of them were male.3
  • Women are less likely to be referred to for knee replacements than men.
  • Women over 50 are less likely to receive potentially life-saving interventions4
  • When going to the Doctor with urgent abdominal pain, women were less likely to receive any pain medicine5

Because males and females are so different biologically, it’s not sound science to utilize male-based clinical trials when determining female medical needs. But it’s not just in conditions and treatments we are discussing here. How we communicate and meet female needs in the world of healthcare also needs to be addressed.

How are Men and Women Wired Differently?

One of the most significant differences between males and females is in the way our brains are wired. Males and females send and receive information uniquely. Male and female brains are structured differently and react and respond differently. According to Scientific American6, researchers found that males excel at motor skills, while women may be better at integrating analysis and intuitive thinking.

Men and women also have entirely different work-related values, which impacts both the well-being of the practitioner and the patient.7

  • Men tend to value money, benefits, power, authority, and status more than women.
  • Women value friends and relationships, recognition and respect, communication, fairness, and collaboration.
  • Men underestimate and are generally unaware of women’s work-related values.
  • Women overestimate how men value pay, power, and authority.
  • Women reported being more distressed at work.
  • Cultural and environmental aspects of work best predicted a woman’s health outcome.
  • Men’s health outcomes were related to supervision and management factors.

As you can see, men and women have very different work values, yet the system centers around male values, such as income generation and growth in status. We need to change this approach, to encompass the needs of our females in healthcare.

Why Do We Need a Female HealthCare Paradigm Shift?

Female physicians are more patient-centered than their male counterparts. Scientists looked at communication during medical visits with female vs. male doctors.8 Female doctors spent an average of 10% more time with their patients, and they engaged in significantly more patient-centered ways of communicating. The communication differences included:

  • Active partnership behaviors
  • Positive talk
  • Psychosocial counseling
  • Emotionally focused talk

On top of this, the female patients who had female doctors disclosed more private information and made more positive statements than the patients of male doctors. In other words: more trust was established with female practitioners, because of empathy and open communication—feminine traits. Yet the model of healthcare is to rush the patient in and out, discussing symptoms and medications, often with a lack of empathy and a deep understanding of the individual.

How do we Change the Paradigm?

We need to start with better communication methods, patient-centered care (considering the emotional needs of the patient), and increased empathy between health care providers and patients. More value needs to be placed on the needs of female practitioners. Rather than a focus on money, power, and authoritative structures, we can emphasize structures, routines, and demands that are not exceeding emotional and physical capabilities. We can take these actionable steps every day, and together we can shift healthcare to a model to one in which everyone wins.

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[1] Okunrintemi, Victor et al. “Gender Differences in Patient-Reported Outcomes Among Adults With Atherosclerotic Cardiovascular Disease.” Journal of the American Heart Association vol. 7,24 (2018): e010498. doi:10.1161/JAHA.118.010498

[2] “Final Report on the Aspirin Component of the Ongoing Physicians’ Health Study” N Engl J Med 1989; 321:129-135 DOI: 10.1056/NEJM198907203210301

[3] Hylton V. Joffe et al. “FDA Approval of Flibanserin—Treating Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder.” N Engl J Med; 2016. 374:101-104 DOI: 10.1056/NEJMp1513686

[4] Bierman, Arlene S. “Sex matters: gender disparities in quality and outcomes of care.” CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association journal = journal de l’Association medicale canadienne vol. 177,12 (2007): 1520-1. doi:10.1503/cmaj.071541

[5] Chen, E.H. et al. “Gender disparity in analgesic treatment of emergency department patients with acute abdominal pain.” Acad Emerg Med. 2008 May;15(5):414-8. doi: 10.1111/j.1553-2712.2008.00100.x.


[7] Roter DL et al. “Physician gender and patient-centered communication: a critical review of empirical research.” Annu Rev Public Health. 2004;25:497-519.

[8] Peterson M. “What men and women value at work: implications for workplace health. ”Gend Med. 2004 Dec;1(2):106-24.

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