University of Illinois study shows women’s reluctance to access healthcare because of response from caregivers

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Communication professor Charee Thompson, right, and graduate student Sara Babu co-wrote a study about women’s struggles to obtain medical treatment and emotional support for chronic health conditions, which they say represents a form of implicit bias and disempowerment that denies women’s knowledge of their bodies and health. Photo by Fred Zwicky @illinois.edu

An Indian-American student and her professor recently published the results of their study on women’s healthcare access.

They found that some women suffering from serious mental or physical problems find access to healthcare and trust of health care deliverers including family, friends and doctors, particularly daunting.

Professor of Communications Charee Thompson and her co-authors – U. of I. graduate students Sara Babu and Shana Makos, described in their study the prolonged prolonged struggles to obtain emotional support, diagnosis and treatment for a variety of serious, often-painful health conditions – including cancer, endometriosis, multiple sclerosis and Crohn’s disease, as well as mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety that were exacerbated by others’ negative reactions, a Dec. 19, 2022 press release from the University, said.

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They interviewed 36 women from across the U.S. about their experiences with providers not taking their health concerns seriously and regarding the mental and physical toll it took.

“Most of them were in their 20s, 30s or older, and oftentimes their mental or reproductive health issues started when they were adolescents. We’re talking decades of neglect or undertreatment,” Thompson is quoted saying in the press release. “One thing that was surprising and frankly heartbreaking was the personal rejection and sometimes the abuse that women experienced because of their health problems.”

Although the study population of 36 was small, the researchers said the women’s experiences reflect a form of implicit bias, discrimination and disempowerment that women have faced for centuries.

Ranging in age from 21-70, the majority of the participants in the current study were white. Six of the women were Black and the remaining three were Filipina, Hispanic or Middle Eastern. However, eight of the participants said they were multiracial.

The researchers recommended cultural awareness training for healthcare givers to mitigate biases.

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