Complexities of gender bias in medicine

A fascinating article.  Here are just a few interesting bits.

In the first study, 230 family doctors and internists were asked to evaluate two hypothetical patients: a 47-year-old man and a 56-year-old woman with identical risk factors and the “textbook” symptoms—including chest pain, shortness of breath, and irregular heart beat—of a heart attack. Half of the vignettes included a note that the patient had recently experienced a stressful life event and appeared to be anxious. In the vignettes without that single line, there was no difference between the doctors’ recommendations to the woman and man. Despite the popular conception of the quintessential heart attack patient as male, they seemed perfectly capable of making the right call in the female patient too.

But when stress was added as a symptom, an enormous gender gap suddenly appeared. Only 15 percent of the doctors diagnosed heart disease in the woman, compared to 56 percent for the man, and only 30 percent referred the woman to a cardiologist, compared to 62 percent for the man. Finally, only 13 percent suggested cardiac medication for the woman, compared to 47 percent for the man. The presence of stress, the researchers explained, sparked a “meaning shift” in which women’s physical symptoms were reinterpreted as psychological, while “men’s symptoms were perceived as organic whether or not stressors were present.”

And from another study, showing the way that biases about femininity may adversely affect men as well:

The researchers also gave the patients a personality test gauging how closely they adhered to traditional gender roles and found that both men and women with more stereotypically feminine traits faced more delays than patients with masculine traits

3 thoughts on “Complexities of gender bias in medicine

  1. Non-hypothetical example: My partner has just been diagnosed with a brain tumour. We have a toddler and she had been struggling for quite a while with apathy and other things associated with depression. Also some strange and subtle personality changes. But never complained of sadness or other mood symptoms. She did, on the other hand, complain of headaches, visual disturbances and sensory issues, and has a complicated medical history including cancer. So ticked every box for the tumour and only a subset of the depression ones. Still went on for months seeing different GPs before being referred for psychiatric assessment (where luckily doctors immediately ordered an MRI).

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