Why Do Women Settle for Sub-Par Healthcare?

I was recently given the opportunity to participate in a special briefing with Dr. Holly Powell Kennedy, President of the American College of Nurse Midwives and Professor of Midwifery at Yale University School of Nursing; Dr. Gene DeClerq, Professor of Community Health Services at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and leading childbirth educator; Brigid Maher, writer, filmmaker, and Associate Professor of Film and Media Arts at American University; and a small panel of other writers and bloggers where findings from a new survey regarding women’s health issues were first released. This survey and new women’s healthcare initiative, “Our Moment of Truth” provided some alarming information about how women perceive the healthcare they receive, what type of care they actually want, and why they are willing to accept less-than-ideal care for matters as important as reproductive health, pregnancy, and childbirth.?
The practice of midwifery, considered the gold standard of care in many countries outside of the United States, has been marred by myths and misinformation in American culture. This initiative seeks to spread awareness and provide women with accurate information about how midwifery is practiced today, and how this practice can serve women better than what “modern” medicine provides. It also aims to empower women to take ownership of their health and their rights as consumers and demand the very best, individualized care from their providers and insurance companies.??

I also had the pleasure of a one-on-one follow-up interview with Dr. Holly Powell Kennedy where I was able to ask more questions and more feedback. Dr. Powell Kennedy was such a wealth of information and gave me several topics to write about on the topics of midwifery as well as women’s healthcare in general. My first article following the interview was published this morning on Technorati’s Women’s Channel, and I am happy to share it with you here:

Why Do Women Settle for Sub-Par Healthcare?


The subject of women?s healthcare, especially pertaining to reproductive healthcare, is the source of great debate among various groups of people. Everyone always has an opinion regarding seemingly age-old issues such as pro-life or pro-choice, breastfeeding or formula-feeding, childbirth with or without pain medication, caesarian or vaginal delivery, what a women should eat and drink while pregnant, how old a women should or should be when pregnant, and so on.

Countless discussions and debates on these subjects occur in politics, on the Internet in women?s health and lifestyle forums, blogs, and social media pages; as well in ?real life? organizations like parent-teacher association meetings, in corporate or office settings, and among friends, acquaintances, and friends. The questions ?what’s the right thing to do for my body and my baby? are often answered by other women and mothers who have ?been there, done that?, with information that may or may not be factual or even relevant to the individual needs of the women who initially asked the question. These women also consult a vast array of books and magazines for childbirth and healthcare advice. It makes one wonder why these women don’t simply ask their healthcare providers these important questions; and instead, would prefer to make important life decisions based on hearsay and anecdotal ?evidence??

Women are largely dissatisfied with their healthcare experiences.

The American College of Nurse Midwives (ACNM) wondered this as well. In order to gain a better understanding of women?s healthcare experiences, and women?s expectations and perceptions of their reproductive healthcare options, the ACNM recently conducted a large scale survey of more than 1,000 American women ages 18 to 45.

This survey, called ?Our Moment of Truth?? had several findings that answer the above question of why women are more comfortable asking for (and are often heeding) reproductive healthcare and childbirth advice from books, message boards, and girlfriends instead of consulting with a qualified healthcare provider. Apparently, only about half of the survey respondents reported that they were ?very satisfied with their women?s healthcare provider.? That leaves a great deal of dissatisfied women, many of which do not look for a new provider because they are unsure of what other options are available under their insurance plans.

One reason for this high rate of dissatisfaction is that according to the survey, more than one-third of the participants strongly agreed that their women?s healthcare provider discussed complicated healthcare decisions in easily understandable lay terms. Another source of dissatisfaction has to do with the women?s pregnancy childbirth experiences. The survey revealed that 49% of the women wanted emotional and continuous support from their healthcare providers during pregnancy and labor and delivery; however only 28% of them actually felt that their providers gave them adequate attention and support during labor and birth.

Why is this considered to be acceptable?

Upon learning the results of Our Moment of Truth?, I had the opportunity to speak with ACNM President Dr. Holly Powell Kennedy, who is also Professor of Midwifery at Yale University School of Nursing. Among other questions, I asked her why she feels that women feel is satisfactory to accept sub-par healthcare. She responded that ?people don’t understand ?par? healthcare actually is.? Dr. Powell Kennedy identified several reasons for this. First, there is a ?growing acceptance of the idea that major technology equals better healthcare, and this is not necessarily the case.? The culture and practice of medicine in the United States is not necessarily conducive to the type of care that women should be receiving at this stage of life. ?Midwifery, for example, was virtually eliminated in this country by the turn of the last century by modern medicine. For a long time midwives only served the needs of lower income women, which is not the case in other countries such as the United Kingdom, where midwifery is considered the standard of care for women?s reproductive health.?

Change cannot occur if women remain silent.

Dr. Powell Kennedy strongly believes that women need to speak up and voice their opinions on what they expect from their healthcare providers. According to the survey, 70% of the women want a provider that listens to them, and 48% wanted a provider to be accessible when they need them. The current model of how women?s healthcare is practiced in this country does not necessarily allow for this type of care. Women often only have brief office appointments for tests and measurements during pregnancy, and are cared for my nurses and other hospital staff during labor?often the doctor only arrives for the actual delivery, and then leaves. Other options, such as midwifery, offer a much more hands-on approach, with continuous support, education, and care during pregnancy, labor and delivery, and post-partum.

Dr. Powell Kennedy feels that in order for women to receive a better quality of care, they must be educated about their options for reproductive healthcare, pregnancy, and childbirth. ?While some women do need the services of an obstetrician (OBs are surgeons), most women do not.? Following the findings from the survey, the ACNM has launched an initiative called Our Moment of Truth?: a New Understanding of Midwifery Care. Their mission is educate and dispel myths about midwifery as standard care for women in order ?to improve women?s health and maternity care in the United States by re-introducing midwives and midwifery care as important options that should be the norm for women?s health care services.? Once women are aware of the benefits of using midwifery as standard reproductive healthcare, they must speak up and create a demand for midwifery.

I was surprised to learn that the challenge lies more with gaining recognition from women as consumers, more than with getting recognition from other healthcare providers and insurance companies. According to Dr. Powell Kennedy, ?the ACNM has made big strides in terms of recognition from insurance companies and hospitals. Some large healthcare organizations, such as Kaiser Permanente, already use midwifes. Women need to be strong consumers and demand options if they want more insurance companies to cover midwifery services.? If you are interested in midwifery services for your own healthcare needs, check to see if your insurance company covers midwifery. If not, Dr. Powell Kennedy suggests looking for a plan that does cover midwifes during the annual open enrollment/renewal period. Insurance companies will respond if enough women begin to ask for these services.

With knowledge comes power, but action must stem from this power in order for change to occur.?
For more information about midwifery, and the Our Moment of Truth? initiative, visit their website.

I want to thank The American College of Nurse Midwives and especially Dr. Holly Powell Kennedy for inviting me to be a part of this initiative and for providing such wonderful information. Look for future articles in support of Our Moment of Truth.

*Article first published as Why Do Women Settle for Sub-Par Healthcare? on Technorati.

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