A new report has revealed the consequences of the pandemic on broader healthcare, with more women putting off seeing their doctors and risking their wellbeing.
The report, released by the Kaiser Family Foundation, found that more women bypassed health care services than men and have consequently suffered worsening health conditions over the last few months.
The senior policy analyst for women’s health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, Brittni Frederiksen told CNN that the gaps in health care between men and women may see more women suffering severe health issues once the pandemic ends.
“This gap in care among those with the greatest health problems could portend an increase of the share of patients experiencing more severe health conditions resulting from care that was forgone or delayed during the pandemic,” Frederiksen said. “Nearly one in 10 women ages 18-25 and 7 percent of women ages 26-35 say they delayed or were not able to get birth control due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The women who reported being in fair or poor health were likelier to have skipped going to see the doctor than the women who said they were in good or excellent health.
Additionally, women with higher incomes, private insurance or Medicaid were likelier to bypass preventive health services than those with lower incomes and women who are uninsured.
Frederiksen’s team surveyed 3,661 women and 1,144 men across America between November to December last year. Roughly 27 percent of women who reported being in fair or poor health said their health conditions worsened as a result of not seeking medical advice and treatment, compared to 12 percent who said they were in good or excellent health.
Roughly one in five low-income women reported worsening conditions, compared to just 13 percent of higher income women. The report also found that 38 percent of women overall claimed to have skipped preventive health services during the pandemic, compared to just 26 percent of men. Women were also likelier to skip recommended tests and treatment and less unable to get a health care appointment due to lockdowns throughout the pandemic.
“Individuals who face delays in contraceptive care could face negative health consequences, such as sexually transmitted infections or unwanted pregnancies,” Frederiksen added.
The researchers suggested that women with more resources skipped care because they were worried about exposing themselves to COVID-19.
There is some good news though — the report showed that most women surveyed were satisfied with telehealth during the pandemic, and the researchers added that the policies promoting “…access to telehealth and mental health services may support women in obtaining needed health care for the remainder of the pandemic and beyond.”
Here in Australia, telehealth services have skyrocketed since March 2020 to provide health care to people, especially those in regional, rural and remote Australia. However, as National Rural Health Alliance CEO Dr Gabrielle O’Kane said, “While telehealth has been an important lifeline for people in rural, regional and remote Australia during the pandemic, connectivity remains a big issue in rural Australia, and we need to be improving internet infrastructure in the bush otherwise telehealth is difficult or impossible for patients and health practitioners to use.”
In 2020, the National Women’s Health Survey found that 31.7 percent of women between 25-44 did not have enough time to attend health check appointments and one in three women reported that their health worsened after COVID-19.
Our own research from a survey taken last October showed that almost 40 percent of our readers claimed they put off speaking with a doctor or specialist about anything related to their physical or mental health during pandemic. For women based in Victoria, the percentage rose to 48.
The report, conducted in partnership with Charles Sturt University, surveyed more than 1100 women, asking women a range of questions regarding how their health (including sleep) had been impacted by the pandemic.
Earlier this week, Dr Norman Swan spoke on ABC radio’s Health Report to a number of Melbourne-based doctors to ask them about the effect of lockdown measures on maternity care for pregnant women.
Dr Lisa Hui, an Associate Professor at the Department of Perinatal Medicine at Melbourne University told Dr Swan that in the middle of last year there was a rise in the number of babies either born at home, unplanned, or on the way to hospital.
“It may be that women were afraid to come to hospital or wanted to delay the amount of time they spent in labour in hospital because we had quite strict restrictions on support people in labour,” she said. “So women were limited to only one support person, and this is just speculation but perhaps women for that reason chose to stay at home longer where they could have their additional support people with them as long as possible.”