MedCity Influencers

To Continue the Momentum in Women’s Health, We Have No Time to Lose

We must look both “upstream” – at advocating for change on an institutional level – and “downstream” – at what we can do as individuals to help women secure the care they need.

We are at a critical moment for women’s health.

As we approach the two-year mark of operating in a post-Roe v. Wade America, we have already seen the impact: the U.S. is facing a shortage of OB-GYN doctors. The Alabama supreme court ruling continues to cause confusion for women and families hoping to become parents with In vitro fertilization (I.V.F.) treatments. Women are concerned about their options for access to reproductive care — but this is just the start. 

As women’s health as a whole gains attention, issues beyond reproductive care are also coming to the forefront: Cardiovascular disease has emerged as the leading cause of death among women worldwide; women are nearly twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with depression; and almost two-thirds of Americans with Alzhemeimer’s dementia are women. What these conditions have in common: they impact women disproportionately, and are vastly understudied and underfunded. 

This is a dire state of affairs, especially in a year with enormous implications for women’s health. What can we do? 

We must look both “upstream” – at advocating for change on an institutional level – and “downstream” – at what we can do as individuals to help women secure the care they need. Our focus must be on ensuring more comprehensive care options for women. Three steps we can take to make sure women’s health can continue to push for progress:

  1. Upstream: Advocate for more research funding and more representative research. Research saves lives. Given the translational gap between research to clinical practice, we have no time to waste. We need to ensure that women are fully represented in National Institutes of Health research on critical topics like brain health, which encompasses everything from Alzheimer’s which women are more likely to suffer from to migraine, the leading cause of disability for working-aged women. We must close historical gender research gaps that have made the male body the default standard. Research needs to take into account how women’s health risks may change across the lifespan and how their identities – such as that of a mother or a family caretaker – might impact those health risks. 
  2. Downstream: Advance access to care to ensure research and innovation can serve patients equitably. Groundbreaking research and innovation is for naught if we aren’t addressing disparities in access to care for women. We need to ensure that access to care is designed with the needs of contemporary women in mind. Too often, women face bias and stigma in the care delivery experience that we live with today. Fortunately, the rise of telemedicine and asynchronous care offers a range of new ways for women to access care, expanding opportunities for individuals to receive the care they need, when they need it. The next step is for payors to innovate, and expand their coverage policies to ensure that care options not only meet women where they are, but are also affordable. Expanding medical coverage for innovative care models ultimately boosts private sector investment into women’s health as an area with outsized financial returns. 
  3. Rethink public policy efforts: These efforts need to rise to the level of the problem at hand. Efforts like the White House’s first-ever Initiative on Women’s Health Research — which recently kicked off a $100 million fund for women’s health research and development — are a welcome step in the right direction, promoting a cross-sector effort to pioneer new discoveries, close research gaps and improve women’s health. This investment creates an opportunity to bring public and private sector partners together, support the next generation of women’s health entrepreneurs, and build a future with more robust treatments that account for sex as a biological variable. 

Despite the challenges ahead, we have made enormous strides – both in breaking down barriers to access to care, and in expanding our understanding that women’s health is not only about reproductive care or the choice to bear children. Today, “women’s health” encompasses a wider range of issues than ever before, including conditions that impact women disproportionately, like anxiety, migraines, or cardiovascular disease.

Further, women are at the forefront as the leading entrepreneurs, attacking these challenges in new and creative ways — especially in the women’s digital health market, which is projected to climb to nearly $11 billion by the end of the decade. Women are not only creating digital health technologies that make healthcare easier and more accessible, but also addressing long taboo topics like menopause and sexual health head-on to remove the stigma.

I’m inspired by the growing awareness and education around women making informed choices about their healthcare. But we cannot take our progress for granted. To sustain this momentum, we need a sense of urgency — one that demands action in developing and investing in solutions predominantly driven by and for women, and in improving outcomes for women across the board. 

Let’s champion institutional reforms and encourage women to actively participate in health decisions. Let’s advocate for the multidimensional nature of women’s health needs, promote research that translates to clinical care for better patient outcomes, and support the organizations committed to expanding access. Women are half of the population — but more importantly, we are friends, daughters, partners, and mothers. We deserve true advocates who support us in living long, healthy lives. We must commit to sustained progress for the long haul. And we have no time to lose.

Photo: asnidamarwani, Getty Images

Michelle Carnahan is President of Thirty Madison, the premier healthcare company for people living with chronic conditions. After spending more than 25 years in healthcare and treatment innovation, Michelle joined Thirty Madison because of her commitment to patients and her desire to improve chronic care. As President, Michelle focuses on leading the company into the future, expanding its offerings, and ensuring a constant patient focus. Her background in strategy, marketing, and operations at Sanofi and Eli Lilly allowed her to see how having access to the care patients needed changed their lives for the better.