Working to better understand female healthcare consumers is crucial to radiology’s future

A majority of women in the United States make the healthcare decisions for both themselves and the other members of their households. According to an editorial published in the Journal of the American College of Radiology, failing to truly understand and appreciate the perspective of women when they assume the role of healthcare consumers does them a great disservice.

Author Lucy B. Spalluto, MD, of the department of radiology and radiological sciences at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, began the article by describing her own routine.

“Each evening when I return home from work after a busy day at the breast center, I face my second and often more demanding job,” she wrote. “I pay the bills, run payroll for my nanny, make doctor’s appointments for my children and husband, decide which physicians they will see, and consult with friends about which physicians are best. I sometimes think I have learned more about business and personnel management from managing my household and negotiating with my toddlers than I have from the workplace.”

Spalluto pointed out that this experience is common for women, whether they are working physicians or not. Recent research shows that 94 percent of working women with children under the age of 18 make healthcare decisions for themselves and others in their family.

So why don’t more healthcare policies take this fact into account? Not truly understanding where these women are coming from, Spalluto explained, keeps healthcare from being as effective as it could be.

“Understanding the needs and expectations of female health care consumers is imperative to strengthen the dynamic relationship radiology has with its consumers,” she wrote. “Female health care consumers want clear communication, friendly and informative customer service, and affordable preventive care.”

Spalluto then offered several statistics that show how bad the situation has become, explaining that three primary things hinder women when working to make healthcare decisions for themselves and their families: time, knowledge and trust.

  • Time: Spalluto noted that 77 percent of women don’t put maximum effort into staying healthy. Sixty-two percent of them say they simply don’t have the time. “Designing efficient systems in radiology can decrease the amount of unnecessary time consumers must spend within the radiology system,” she wrote. “This includes time spent accessing information about radiologic studies, scheduling studies, and waiting within facilities for studies to be completed as well as lag time in receiving results.”
  • Knowledge: Women simply don’t feel the information available to them is credible enough. How can that be corrected? Spalluto said that the “methods for disseminating information to potential patients and decision makers” must be improved.
  • Trust: “The distrust female health care consumers have in the health care system is staggering,” Spalluto wrote. “The vast majority of women don’t trust insurance companies (78 percent) or pharmaceutical companies (83 percent), and only 65 percent trust their physicians.” She again pointed out that improvements are needed. Communication that is “open, clear, and effective” is key, as is customer service that provides helpful answers to any questions that may come up.

So what can be done now to address this problem? Spalluto explained that more women are needed at all levels of radiology, especially in leadership roles; this helps ensure that the female perspective is considered more frequently across the board.

She also emphasized that many imaging societies, including the American College of Radiology, Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging, Society of Interventional Radiology and Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine, have taken steps to get more women involved in radiology. As those efforts continue, it should help the female perspective become a larger and larger part of consuming healthcare in the years ahead.

“Female health care consumers hold the purse strings of radiology,” Spalluto concluded. “Understanding and meeting the needs of this powerful sector is integral to radiology’s future successes.”