A report just released on HealthReform.gov, the website for the Obama Administration’s healthcare reform effort, is entitled Roadblocks To Healthcare: Why The Current Health Care System Does Not Work For Women, and cites that more than half of American women (52%) delay or avoid care because of cost, compared to 39% of men.
A video synopsis of the report, hosted by Kathleen Sebelius, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, states that women are being left behind when it comes to healthcare and that there are over 21 million uninsured women in the U.S. Young women have much more difficulty finding affordable health insurance than do men and often pay higher premiums – sometimes one and a half times – those of a young man. These facts all add up to women not getting the care they need to stay healthy.
As a primary care provider (PCP) focusing on women’s health, the findings of the report don’t surprise me, not even a little. From my anecdotal studies of the number of women that I have seen over the years, the majority of women struggle to receive the care they need because they cannot afford it. What typically will happen is that these women delay, often for years, any type of check-up or preventive care because of costs. Instead, they wait until they are sick or are having issues, and then they are forced to find the money and the time to seek medical care.
I also have found another factor beyond price that is creating a barrier to healthcare for women, and the word is “convenience.” Many women cannot, or often will not, take the time to seek routine medical care when most doctor’s offices are open, which is nine to five. Frequently these women are working, albeit on jobs that offer them little or no healthcare coverage, and are loathe to take time off of work for a non-emergency medical issues. Women also have the lion’s share of childcare responsibility, and are more likely to put their children’s schedules and family needs well before theirs.
Primary care can be the first place to look for a solution in bringing affordable, convenient care to women so that there are no roadblocks to access. We strive to do just this at our practice. Our Well Women Clinics were spearheaded after much deliberation about cost and convenience. We started last year and have found them to be a great success. For these clinics, we designated specific days during the month for routine well women check-ups. Hours for these check-ups are early morning through lunch one day and mid-afternoon through evening on another days. We offer the clinics two days each month on different days of the week, ideally making times available for each patient’s schedule, whether she is a current patient with us or a new one.
Although the biggest hurdle for women to getting the care may be cost, as the Obama Administration’s report cites, let us not forget the role that convenience in getting this care plays. Healthcare and wellness does not have a nine-to-five schedule. Likewise, most women’s roles beyond possibly those in a regular “office” job are not on such a regimented schedule; their roles as caretakers and mothers have round-the-clock demands. We need to work with women determine and then remove all of the roadblocks to accessing of care, starting first and foremost with cost, moving to convenience and then considering others that may exist.
Until next week, I remain yours in primary care,
Valerie Tinley, MSN, RNFA, FNP-BC