Many women throughout B.C. feel they’re being let down by the province’s health care system, according to a sobering new report.
Titled “In Her Words,” the report released Wednesday by the B.C. Women’s Health Foundation and Pacific Blue Cross found nearly one in three women surveyed do not feel their health care needs are being met or treated effectively.
Worse, more than half of respondents felt a physician had overlooked or diminished their symptoms — in most cases treating the issue as psychological rather than physical.
According to the report, one in 11 women surveyed believed their symptoms were overlooked because of their gender alone.
The issue was found to be more common for women under the age of 45, at 54 per cent.
The same age group also reported an overall lower opinion of their emotional health compared to women over 45. One-third of younger women gave a rating of “fair” or “poor.”
Lindsay McCray, a 37-year-old mother of two, says she used to suffer extreme pain from endometriosis — a condition where the tissue that normally lines the uterus grows outside instead, irritating surround tissue.
For 20 years, McCray sought help dozens of times. Each visit resulted in a similar diagnosis.
It wasn’t until McCray had a hysterectomy that the symptoms finally ceased.
Older women, meanwhile, reported a higher number of chronic health conditions at 54 per cent. That number jumps to 64 per cent for women over 65.
For Indigenous women, the numbers are even more staggering: nearly three-quarters of those surveyed found their needs weren’t being met. More than 80 per cent had trouble accessing care entirely, compared to just 30 per cent of women overall.
Many Indigenous respondents said physicians often made assumptions about their life experiences that informed diagnoses, including labeling patients as alcoholics.
The report was based on responses from 1,000 women aged 16 and over surveyed by the Mustel Group.
Dr. Lori Brotto with the Women’s Health Research Institute says the report is proof that women’s health has not been taken as seriously as men’s for decades — and that a shift in understanding is needed.
“I think there has been this lasting belief that women are like mini-men,” she said. “That’s not the case.”
Brotto and other women’s health advocates are hopeful the report can be used as a stepping stone to enact change in the health care system along with government and private sectors.
“From a researcher perspective, a better and more concerted investment in women’s health research is absolutely essential” in order to further educate health care practitioners, Brotto said.
—With files from Catherine Urquhart