Women's Health

Four women with arms around each other hiking and laughing, photo by Rawpixel.com/Adobe Stock

Photo by Rawpixel.com/Adobe Stock

There has been a growing interest in innovation and service improvement for women’s health globally – amongst policy and decisionmakers, industry, healthcare providers and patients, and the public. While both political and societal interest in women’s health is increasing, there is a scarcity of evidence on how best to translate science and technology advances, and health services research evidence in unmet needs into solutions that are accessible by women.

Addressing complexity and fragmentation of women’s health services

In the NHS, women have reported that they commonly experience fragmentation of care as they navigate a number of services for their sexual and reproductive needs, expressing low satisfaction, feeling unheard and being expected to travel far or attend multiple appointments for care that could be provided in a single visit.1

Women’s Health Hubs aimed to address this by enabling joined-up commissioning and delivery of care. However, given the variation in models of women’s health hubs and in local contexts in which they are implemented (e.g. needs of women, existing services and skills of health care professionals),2 there is a need for more research into how best to implement hubs and integrate women’s health services.3 Work is needed to address complexity and fragmentation of women’s health services by offering more comprehensive, integrated and personalised care.

Care quality and safety

There is need to advance regulation in diverse areas of women’s health to ensure both safety and effectiveness, as well as to consider related policy challenges around user education, empowerment and awareness raising.

Work is also needed to better understand the detrimental impacts of unregulated products and how the diverse advances in women’s health, of which many do not neatly fit existing product classifications, can best be regulated (e.g. digital platforms for women’s health, AI assisted wearables, tampons for collecting diagnostic specimens).

Inequalities in access

There are risks of widening health inequalities through lower adoption and patient access in areas with higher deprivation and health systems that are least prepared for innovation and improvement. Inequalities in women’s health are linked to a unique set of challenges to navigate which originate from historic medical discrimination (e.g. lack of women in trials, underfunding of women’s health issues, diagnostic criteria being ‘male-centric’), poor societal education/awareness on symptoms and conditions, and the role of taboo as a barrier to access to healthcare.4

Work is needed to mitigate risks of poor access to innovative products, technologies and services, and geographical/postcode lotteries for existing services (e.g. access to fertility services, and gynaecology expertise available in primary care for some women but not others).

Research to help ensure a better alignment between the innovations and service improvements being developed and areas of unmet need

The private sector is a hotbed of innovation in women’s health. However, it is difficult to know what innovations are available for end users, what their underpinning evidence base is, and how what is available can respond to unmet needs.

Clearer processes for prioritisation and better communication of unmet needs and innovation requirements to innovators are needed. There is also a need to understand how innovation could be implemented into existing care pathways in the context of health and care pathway transformation.

Workplace responses: workplace interventions to support women’s health

Employers may play a role in progressing the women’s health agenda and are well-placed for population-level interventions and support of women’s health in some areas such as menopause, pregnancy loss, heavy menstrual bleeding and other gynaecological conditions. There is a scarcity of research on the types of workplace practices that could make the biggest difference and a need to evaluate emerging interventions.

Related Research and Commentary

References

  • 1DHSC. 2021. Women's Health Strategy: Call for Evidence.
  • 2Early evaluation of Women’s Health Hubs: Initial findings October 2022. As of 12 March 2024: https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/research/brace/projects/womens-health-hubs.aspx
  • 3Ong et al. 2022. ‘Improving access to sexual health services in general practice using a hub-and-spoke model: a mixed-methods evaluation.’ Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 19, 3935. As of 12 March 2024: https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph19073935
  • 4DHSC. 2022. "Consultation outcome: Results of the ‘Women’s Health – Let’s talk about it’ survey," Alcalde-Rubio, L., Hernández-Aguado, I., Parker, L. A., Bueno-Vergara, E., & Chilet-Rosell, E. 2020. ‘Gender disparities in clinical practice: are there any solutions? Scoping review of interventions to overcome or reduce gender bias in clinical practice.’ International journal for equity in health 19(1), 1-8.