Empowering Women's Health
Dr Sneha Wadhwani
Women as a group have a higher life expectancy than men, and tend to experience a greater burden of disease, while also living more years with disability. They are more likely to be admitted to hospital across a range of disease pathologies, and live more years with health problems than their male counterparts.
Poor sexual and reproductive health accounts for a third of the total global burden of disease in women aged 15-44 years old.
Yet studies have shown that 60% of Australian women have less than average health literacy with only 6% having high levels of health literacy, with women over 65 years old showing the lowest levels of health literacy. Low levels of health literacy are directly related to adverse health outcomes, and chronic disease prevalence.
Access to services is a crucial determinant for health, though there may be multiple barriers to this ranging from financial costs and opening hours, to type of practitioner available.
Here in Australia, countering the aforementioned barriers, patients are afforded choice in terms of the health professionals and health services they access, to address the issues they may have.
With 57% of Australian GP consultations occurring with women, the gender specific health needs of women constitute a significant proportion of Australians’ health seeking behaviour.
However, the GP or specialist consultation isn’t necessarily the optimal place for health education to take place. With time constraints in clinics, and long waiting lists, clinicians can be pushed to drive up health literacy in the limited contact they may have with their patients. We know from research that on average in a clinical consultation, patient only retain approximately 30% of the information imparted to them in this context.
However, it is of course in this trusted relationship between patient and doctor that questions can be asked and answered, fears can be explored, and expectations addressed.
In Women’s Health, we see many conditions underreported and silently suffered. Conditions with significant disability in terms of quality of life, but which are not obvious on the outside. Conditions such as pelvic pain, urinary incontinence and prolapse which not only affect a woman’s ability to function normally in terms of her physical and sexual health, but also have a significant impact to the Australian economy in terms of work days lost due to sickness, as well as costs to the Australian healthcare system.
As a busy GP in the Eastern suburbs of Sydney and a GP specialist in Women’s Health, I believe that there is more that can be done in this domain. Having worked in the UK for many years, my career developed in a climate of patient partnership and empowerment through education, choice and knowledge.
I wanted to bring this to my practice in Australia and empower my female population to become more aware of their health needs and seek solutions for the problems they may have.
As such, I developed a series of evening seminars, served with bubbles and nibbles, to address the under consulted and largely unspoken health problems that women face, in a safe, no question off limits environment.
In doing this, we take education out into the community and serve it in a way that can be absorbed and assimilated, so that it can be effectively utilised to drive up levels of health and wellbeing.