Genesa Greening and Heidi Worthington: Gender inequities in B.C. health-care system demand action from employers

Credit to Author: Stephen Snelgrove| Date: Thu, 10 Oct 2019 01:00:25 +0000

One in two — that is the ratio of women in B.C. who report having their medical concerns diminished by a physician, and sadly, just one of many alarming findings uncovered by a recent report commissioned by the B.C. Women’s Health Foundation (BCWHF) in partnership with Pacific Blue Cross.

Released this week, In Her Words: Women’s experience with the health-care system in B.C., sheds light on the invisible barriers women face within B.C.’s health-care system, outlining several systematic challenges that prevent women from receiving prompt and compassionate treatment.

The report builds on a body of research that has shown how the health-care system’s one-size-fits-all approach to research and treatment has sidelined the specific and unique health needs of women. As a result, women’s health concerns often go undiagnosed and untreated, a reality that is also confirmed by the report: nearly one-third of B.C. women (31 per cent) report their needs aren’t being met by the health-care system, while 70 per cent of Indigenous women under age 45 report challenges accessing health care.

In a country where “reasonable and uniform access to insured health services” is enshrined by law, these findings are unacceptable — but not new. Studies have long shown that women’s health needs disproportionately go untreated or undiagnosed.

The consequences of this trend continuing are too high to approach with incremental measures. To make a significant impact, transformational change is needed.

While increased focus on gender inequities from both our provincial and federal governments is a reassuring sign, we need to match this momentum in the private sector to most effectively address the gaps impeding women’s access to care.

To help drive forward solutions, Pacific Blue Cross recently entered into a three-year partnership with the BCWHF. This alliance allows greater collaboration between the two organizations with the goal to develop health-care insurance products that specifically address the unique health-care needs of women in B.C.

At a time when Canadian employees are increasingly looking to their employers for leadership on social issues, there is substantial opportunity for businesses to take initiative on women’s health. In fact, 79 per cent of Canadians believe that CEOs should take the lead on change rather than wait for government to impose it, according to the Edelman 2019 Trust Barometer.

One way to start investing in the health of women is to ensure that workplace programs and benefits account for their unique needs at all ages and stages of life — an investment that also yields benefits to the employer through reduced absenteeism, improved overall engagement, and greater recruitment and retention of top talent over the long-term. With a highly competitive marketplace in B.C., looking to entice talent is good for employees, and good for business.

These issues require involvement across both the private and public sectors in order to raise awareness about the need for increased funding of women’s health research. The BCWHF, for example, is funding solutions-focused research at the Women’s Health Research Institute aimed at uncovering actionable solutions for the health issues women face every day.

Most importantly, to ensure that these issues remain top-of-mind, it’s critical that we break the stigma that hinders discussion of health issues and share their experiences encountering inequities within the system.

Employers have a chance to recognize women’s unique health needs in their workplace environment, policies and benefits packages. Through increased dialogue and concrete action we can ensure the unique health needs of half the population will no longer be treated as an afterthought.

Genesa Greening is president and CEO of the B.C. Women’s Health Foundation. Heidi Worthington is the senior vice-president, chief revenue officer and COO at Pacific Blue Cross.

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