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Gender and Sex Bias in Medicine

Gender bias can lead to a medical malpractice lawsuit. Several studies have shown that men tend to receive better medical treatment. However, the number of medical errors affecting women is seemingly higher.

Adding to the complexities of traditional gender bias in medicine is medical discrimination against transgender men and women. In fact, transgender patients suffer not just from a lack of access to medical professionals who understand their medical needs, but also from a lack of cultural competence.

If you think you are the victim of medical negligence and substandard care because of your sex or gender, you can file a lawsuit with a medical malpractice attorney.

The Problem with Gender Bias in Medicine

Gender and sex bias is a genuine problem in medicine. Women, in particular, are seemingly taken less seriously when reporting symptoms of severe illnesses such as cancer, auto-immune disorders, and other severe health conditions. This has been known to lead to misdiagnosis, missed diagnoses, or delayed diagnosis.

As a result, a female is much more likely to receive a lower standard of health care than her male counterparts. This gives her grounds to file a malpractice claim against medical experts if they become an injured patient or suffer future medical problems because of poor treatment.

For transgender patients, they face additional hurdles in finding competent care. Many medical professionals are unfamiliar with the health issues associated with transgender medicine, including hormone therapies, sexual reassignment surgeries, and unique mental health challenges.

Additionally, transgender patients are more likely to run into providers who are biased and cannot interact, understand, empathize, or communicate with transgender people. Transgender persons often feel stigmatized and discriminated against as a result, which leads to significant health disparities in the transgender population.

What to Do if You’re Treated Differently During Your Healthcare

If you feel you were treated differently based on your gender or sex when receiving healthcare and you suffered an injury, as a result, you could file a medical malpractice suit.

Gender bias has been so pervasive in our society that it does not come as a surprise that it is ingrained in medical practice, from treating females and transgender patients differently to affecting drug trials and research. With the advent of AI, there is a real danger of these biases being built into algorithms that may affect resource allocation in the future, and it is time to speak up.

The problem of gender bias arises because most research focuses on males. Large numbers of drugs are tested on male laboratory animals for fear that female hormone levels would obscure the results. Additionally, medical training traditionally focused on male responses to treatments, often implicitly, but it is ingrained nonetheless.

Doctors, in general, care deeply about their patients and their health and will do anything to ensure they give them the best care possible. Yet, sometimes these medical professionals are completely unaware of how their own biases influence their caregiving, nor the effect it has on their patients.

What is Gender Bias?

It is usually unconscious, but bias can be innate or learned. It is a prejudice, unfair weighting or distortion, and it implies unfairness and partiality or favoritism.

In medicine, gender bias refers to unintentional systematic neglect of either gender. It amounts to stereotyping and applying preconceptions about behavior, needs, health, or beliefs.

In recent years, the language has shifted to acknowledge that gender is not a fixed biological characteristic; it is now recognized as an identity. Gender can refer to transgender men and women, cis male and female patients, non-binary patients, gender fluid patients, and 52 other gender identifications.

Sex, on the other hand, refers to the biological assignment at birth or male or female. Biological female patients often endure sex bias in medical settings. Sex signifies biological characteristics, such as reproductive organs, hormones, or chromosomes.

No matter how individualistic we regard ourselves to be, in some way or the other, we all conform to socially acceptable presentations in our interactions with others. This is where the differences between sex and gender can influence medical practice decisions since doctors not only have to try and find causes of symptoms presented to them but also have to interpret the patient’s story.

Fausto-Sterling explains the difference between male and female physical differences clearly in the bone-building process. The bones of a male, in general, are much heavier than that of a female, but girls who exercise can end up with bones much heavier than those of boys that do not. Thus, doctors have to consider both gender and sex when treating patients, and if they fail to do so, this is bias.

Gender Bias in Medicine Making Headlines

In 2014 the NIH urged researchers to start including at least 50% of female lab animals in studies to represent the population, as they were concerned with the effects of certain drugs on female patients and finding them to have been tested mostly on male laboratory animals.

It is believed that female laboratory animals were avoided due to fear that their hormones and reproductive cycles would skew the results. Francis Collings, the NIH Director recently issued a full, formal apology to women and women scientists for their failure to step up sooner.

The FDA has warned against minimally-invasive surgeries that are practiced on women that have not been approved for use in the US, such as morcellation, and thousands have had weak pelvic floors fixed with mesh surgeries that have caused problems. Breast implants have been in the news, and it is believed that women are not given enough information to make informed decisions.

Sometimes the best intentions can backfire, as is the case with warning pregnant mothers not to drink and implementing punitive policies for those who do, which simply result in them avoiding prenatal care. Affirmative policies allow them priority access to substance abuse programs, and punitive policies define alcohol use as neglect.

A female neurologist, Dr. Laura Boylan, suffered from movement disorder symptoms and claimed that doctors treated her as hysterical and repeatedly diagnosed her symptoms as psychological. In contrast, they would have tested a male patient for Parkinson’s.

Sometimes the best intentions can backfire, as is the case with warning pregnant mothers not to drink and implementing punitive policies for those who do, which simply result in them avoiding prenatal care. Affirmative policies allow them priority access to substance abuse programs, and punitive policies define alcohol use as neglect.

A female neurologist, Dr. Laura Boylan, suffered from movement disorder symptoms and claimed that doctors treated her as hysterical and repeatedly diagnosed her symptoms as psychological. In contrast, they would have tested a male patient for Parkinson’s.

She eventually had a cyst in her brain removed, and her symptoms improved. What was originally referred to as hysterical movement disorder, then hysteria, and later psychogenic, is now called “functional disorder” and has similar symptoms to Parkinson’s. Up to 80% of those diagnosed are women.

Time’s Up Health was launched to address gender bias issues in medicine for patients and providers. They claim female patients are often not taken seriously, and that even female doctors think that female patients exaggerate their pain. The example provided was endometriosis, which is a condition that takes on average, nine years to diagnose, 1 in 10 women suffer from it.

One may think that symptoms do vary between male and female patients, and that may be the leading cause for the treatment differences. It may also be related to innate gender bias in the physician, training concerning gender bias (i.e., women may be more likely to complain, men are more stoic, certain cultures are more expressive, etc.) or communication problems between the physician and the patient.

How Does this Translate to Medical Malpractice?

Gender bias may influence many decisions made in your clinical care – from being misdiagnosed or under-diagnosed to being sent home without any investigation or treatment when you are suffering a serious illness. It may translate to receiving substandard care in relation to diagnostic interventions or treatments. You may suffer serious side-effects from medication only tested on male subjects.

You might have a medical malpractice case if your injuries and illness resulted from a lack of care or neglect of the standard of care, simply due to your gender identification or sex. This may be unintentional, but it is a mistake that can lead to serious and even fatal complications.

If you believe medical malpractice occurred because of your gender or sex, a medical malpractice lawyer can evaluate your neglect case.

Contact Us

If you have mounting medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering due to medical neglect and gender bias, we can help. The experienced medical malpractice attorneys at the law firm of Cochran, Kroll & Associates, P.C., can compile critical medical records, testimony from experts, and eyewitnesses to your care to create a timeline of events that prove gender bias. We don’t get paid until you win your medical malpractice claim.

Don’t delay. For a free case evaluation, call us now at (866) 868-3779.

Joy is a professional writer with 12 years of experience, and she spent 10 years as a high school English teacher. Joy has her Bachelor of Arts in English and Secondary Education, and she's working on her Master of Arts in English. She has three years of experience writing about legal matters including medical malpractice, car accident insurance law, and pet ownership rights. She enjoys spending her time with her three dogs.

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