There were several interesting panels on SXSW 2019 devoted to women’s health, including Hysteria no more: Data, Doctors and Women’s Health, which was attended by Chitra Akileswaran, Co-Founder & Advisor in Cleo, a digital health company addressed to parents and Pooja Mehta, Chief Clinical Innovation Officer at LSUHSC Center for Healthcare Value & Equity. The meeting was led by Rashmi Kudesia, a doctor at CCRM Fertility Houston.They were talking about three main important topics:
- Education and holistic approach
- Telemedicine and technological challenges
- Pregnancy issues
The need for education and holistic approach
The panelists paid particular attention to the role of education and open discussion on important women’s issues in society. Their experience as Ob/Gyns shows that women themselves are very poorly educated in terms of menstruation, contraception, fertility, childbirth. Due to social taboos, they have no one to ask about in real life, so they draw their knowledge mainly from the Internet, and there are often no valuable answers.
Doctors are not able to conduct an adequate and profound interview with patients for a time limit of 10 minutes per individual. As a result, there is a lack of education and discussion about, for example, hormonal contraception, which has many side effects. Interestingly, men’s contraceptive pills have been developed, but they are not accepted because of the persistent side effects (which women have to endure!). The fact that the latest contraceptive pills were accepted by the FDA in the 1960’s only adds fuel to the fire.
The systemic problem is the lack of holistic thinking about patient’s health, accumulation of knowledge from different areas and specializations as diet, sleep, environment, social relations, family, zip code and other diseases. Doctors enclose themselves in their narrow section, they do not look at the overall health image of the patient. This is combined with the lack of use of patient health data, so data centralization is also a necessary solution for implementation soon.
As for the technology, the panelists stated that it is, of course, important, but the most crucial is education — without it, both women and doctors will not be able to use it. It is worth starting with early school education and giving doctors the opportunity to share their knowledge with the patient.
Telemedicine and technological challenges
On the same panel, the speakers stated that medical personnel is afraid of new technologies, telemedicine, devices for examination or treatment at home, so they do not recommend modern solutions to patients. They are worried that their calendar will be empty and they will lose customers.
The future of women’s health is in fertile health, applications, and devices for monitoring menstruation, fertility control, pregnancy.
The challenge is also telemedicine, which can help to secure better medical care in rural areas, where there is now a problem with access to medical knowledge, medical facilities, and doctors themselves.
There is no general awareness of pregnancy and support in families. Additionally, gynecological jargon is very insensitive, there is no empathy in talking about delicate and often painful and uncomfortable issues for women.
Very often pregnancy is a ‘dilemma’ of a woman mainly, which requires her total commitment. The moment of childbirth is associated only with beautiful scenes, photos and a wonderful time, when in reality the woman is on the verge of exhaustion, often complications occur.
On the other hand, for women, this is not only a moment of physical but also a moment of mental exhaustion. They are often overwhelmed by the new situation or feel alone, the responsibility for the new family member falls mainly on them. There is little talk about the problem of postnatal depression and it is still a taboo subject. There is a need for education and awareness in the whole families about how to react and help a woman who is about to give birth.
In the case of pregnancies of single, LGBTQ, colored or mature women, there is little knowledge about the methods of getting pregnant, the available procedures or their effectiveness.
Black women die three times more often in the USA, due to childbirth or complications before/after pregnancy. This is often related to the problem of illegal immigrants who are afraid to see a doctor and to financial problems.
From the panels on SXSW devoted to women’s health, the most important conclusions were as follows:
- Technological development is very important, but the most significant is the role of education — without it technology will not be used, or will be used by a very limited group of people.
- We already have on the market many digital solutions related to health — the next step is devices and services that will help with pregnancy, fertility, menstruation, sex life.
- Telemedicine can help with access to health care in rural or inaccessible areas. The obstacle, for the time being, is the lack of sufficient education, solutions or resistance of doctors.
- There is a lack of generally available knowledge about pregnancy and appropriate language in the medical community. There is also still a huge problem with black pregnant women, who die three times more often than the rest of the women.