Women’s Health Guide: Preventive Health

The world is failing women regarding preventive health, which is imperative since it facilitates early detection of life-threatening diseases.

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December 07, 2022

Women make up a large part of our workforce and are lagging behind in some health outcomes. To address this equity issue, employers should address the variety of wellness needs of women through various programs and benefits.

Providing screenings and ensuring that women take advantage of them minimizes the chance that women will wait until they experience chronic pain or limited performance abilities before seeking care. Screenings specifically for breast and cervical cancers and cardiovascular disease should be among the top priorities in routine preventive care to optimize disease management, slow the progression of medical conditions and ultimately save lives. In fact, a report shows that for women who report seeing a doctor once a year, life expectancy is 78 years of age compared to 76 for women who say they haven’t been to a doctor in a year.5

Globally, in 2021, a survey from The Hologic Global Women’s Health Index found that a large majority of women (85%) believed checkups help improve one’s health yet, 59% of women did not see a health care professional in the past 12 months and 60% (more than 1.5 billion women worldwide) were not tested “for any of the most damaging diseases for women.” This includes high blood pressure, cancer, diabetes and sexually transmitted diseases and infections (STDs/STIs).5 Table 1.1 shows country rankings for preventive care.

Table 1.1: Country Rankings for Preventive Care for Women 
Table 1.1: Country Rankings for Preventive Care for Women

Cardiovascular disease (CVD), usually stemming from high blood pressure, is one of the diseases affecting women worldwide, accounting for 35% of all deaths among women globally.6 In 2020, 75% of cardiovascular diseases occurred in low and middle-income countries, such as Turkey and the Ivory Coast, where blood pressure testing for women was as low as 14%.5 In some regions of the world, sociocultural factors put women at greater risk for cardiovascular disease. For example, in Saudi Arabia, restrictions on women’s physical activity can lead to poor physical health, obesity and ultimately CVD.7

Furthermore, the medical profession has typically viewed CVD as a “male disease,” mostly because of gender bias.8 Often the symptoms related to CVD in women have been largely stereotyped as anxiety or stress due to a woman’s “emotional nature.” Such misconceptions are prevalent among women and their providers, ultimately leading to late diagnosis or a misdiagnosis altogether. One British study showed that over a 10-year period from 2003-2013, more than 8,000 women died in England and Wales from heart attacks because they did not receive the same standard of care as men, highlighting the possible dangers of an inadequate health care experience for women within preventive care.9

In the case of cancer, worldwide, just 12% of women said in 2021 that they have been tested for any type of cancer in the past 12 months.5 The percentage of cancer testing was in the single digits for about 40 countries and territories, which included Pakistan, a country where breast cancer rates are the highest in Asia and where less than 1% of women have been tested for cancer.5

In addition to breast cancer, cervical cancer globally is impacting women, particularly those in low-income countries. In 2020, over half a million women in the world were diagnosed with cervical cancer, and close to 342,000 died.10 For some women, barriers and common reasons to not receive cervical screenings include “negative emotions towards screening, cultural or religious taboo and stigma, lack of time and cost.”11 This highlights the need for rapid screenings, minimized costs, addressing stigmas and taboo, flexible time and increased awareness to ensure avoidable deaths, solutions that employers can target.

Cancer Screenings Missed During the Pandemic

During the pandemic, U.S. women were more likely than men to skip health care services, creating potential neglect of serious health issues. Low-income women were also more likely to experience poor health consequences because they missed key health services and screenings.12

In the first year of the pandemic, breast and cervical cancer screenings in the U.S. dropped 6% and 11%, respectively.13


How Can Employers Better Support Women’s Preventive Care?

  • Develop a comprehensive inventory of current preventive services available and then conduct a gap analysis to identify opportunities for proactive care, especially for populations at high risk for common comorbidities.
  • Identify local challenges related to income, legislation and a culture that may make addressing women’s health more difficult.

Learn more in our related resource:

Social Determinants: Access to Health Care Services

  • Provide adequate financial coverage for health screenings.
  • Ensure that information about preventive care is accessible to all by using multiple communication interventions, including but not limited to home mailers.
  • Educate managers and leaders about the need for flexible leaves to ensure compliance with preventive care guidelines. Providing days off can be good for business if it means less time away for critical medical issues.
  • Consider on-site services and clinics to help increase access to preventive services and provide a safe and trusted environment for patients.
  • Offer paid leave and flexible work arrangements for employees to attend to preventive services and screenings.
  • Offer and promote virtual health services for preventive services.
  • Conduct periodic targeted and educational communications campaigns on preventive screenings to drive appropriate and timely preventive screening utilization.
  • Ensure that health plans and leave/disability programs adequately address cancer care and heart disease management.
  • Support employees by providing programs and benefits that help them achieve and maintain a healthy body weight, including nutritional counseling and physical activity programs.

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