The confluence of COVID-19 circumstances in the beginning of the pandemic was a perfect storm to discourage people from getting the care they needed. They were afraid they'd get the virus, and local and state restrictions reduced the availability of nonessential and elective services—making those decisions for them.
The Kaiser Family Foundation's (KFF) Women's Health Survey released its results March 22, 2021, and reported the following highlights from a survey of 3,661 women and 1,144 men ages 18 to 64 conducted November 19, 2020 to December 17, 2020.
A Higher Share of Women Than Men Have Skipped Recommended Preventive Services in Response to the Pandemic–Particularly Women in Fair or Poor Health
This one is a head-scratcher when we consider previous research, along with anecdotes, about men's avoidance maneuvers when it comes to going to the doctor. Take the 2019 Cleveland Clinic survey that found "going to the doctor is so unappealing that most men (72%) would rather do household chores, like cleaning the bathroom or mowing the lawn, than go to the doctor (28%)." And, "About two-thirds (65%) of men tend to wait as long as possible to see their doctor if they have any health symptoms or an injury."
The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that among these women who have "gone without:"
- 38% overall skipped preventive health services, such as a yearly checkup or routine test
- 23% skipped a recommended medical test or treatment
- 10% didn't fill a prescription, cut pills in half, or skipped medicine doses
- 30% couldn't get an appointment due to COVID-19
And among women in fair/poor health, numbers are even higher:
- 46% skipped preventive health services, such as a yearly checkup or routine test
- 32% skipped a recommended medical test or treatment
- 18% didn't fill a prescription, cut pills in half, or skipped medicine doses
- 40% couldn't get an appointment due to COVID-19
Larger Shares of Hispanic Women Could Not Get an Appointment and They Limited Their Medication Because of the Pandemic
It's well known now that communities of color faced more challenges than others, and Hispanic women—who are also more likely not to have insurance—"report higher rates of access to barriers," KFF says. It recommends "targeted outreach" when it comes to free vaccine availability.
Whether Women Were Able to Get Birth Control During the Pandemic Differed by Age, Education, and Insurance
The foundation report says that women who didn't have a high school diploma were more likely to say they couldn't get birth control versus those with a bachelor’s degree or above (10% vs. 5%).
Women with Underlying Health and Economic Challenges Have Experienced Worsening Conditions as a Result of Skipping Medical Care
"Among those who have skipped receiving healthcare services, women in fair or poor health, those with Medicaid coverage, and those with low incomes are more likely than other groups of women to report that their condition has worsened as a result of skipping care," the foundation says.
Twenty-seven percent of those with fair/poor health said that was true, while only 12% of those in excellent/very good/good health reported same. Regarding income, 21% of women below 200% of the federal poverty level (FPL) agreed, while 13% of those above agreed. The FPL in 2020 was $26,200 for a family of four.
The major takeaway for practitioners: Be prepared to respond to greater health needs when you finally see patients who've skipped care.
Women's Telehealth Use During the Pandemic Differs by Key Sociodemographic Characteristics
Telehealth caught on in big ways during the COVID-19 pandemic, since as KFF reports, before that, only about one in 10 men (11%) and women (13%) had done telemedicine or telehealth. The report says by November and December 2020 approximately 1 in 3 (32%) of men and women (38%) had done telemedicine or telehealth since March 1, 2020. More women did this if they were over age 25, with a college degree, with insurance, and with expanded Medicaid.
Surprising? Telehealth visits weren't only for COVID-19, but also for minor issues or chronic condition management. Annual checkups played a role here, with more men at 26% doing that than 12% of women.
Annual Checkups, Management of a Chronic Condition, and Minor Illnesses or Injuries Are the Top Reasons for Seeking Telehealth
Women tended to rate their telehealth or telemedicine visit higher, at 35% versus 29% for men. "Among women, telehealth mental health services received the largest share of excellent ratings, and annual checkups or well woman visits have the smallest share of excellent ratings," the foundation says.
Larger Shares of Younger Women, Hispanic Women, and Low-Income Women Have Ordered Birth Control from a Website or App
Americans do so many transactions online that the trend toward this use seems logical. A cursory Google search shows many companies selling birth control online.
Women Who Are Younger, Are Black or Hispanic, Are Insured, and Have A Regular Provider Are More Likely to Have Been Tested for Covid-19
A small percentage of women reported trying to get a COVID-19 test and being unable to get one, at 7%.
More Than Half of Women Say Worry or Stress Related to Coronavirus Affected their Mental Health
Here at Health eCareers, we've reported on numerous studies citing the toll that COVID-19 took on the public and on healthcare providers. The foundation says in this report that, "While most (79% of women, 83 percent of men) say that the impact has been moderate or minor, almost one-fifth (21 percent of women and 17% of men) say the toll has had a major impact on their mental health." Women who reported being in fair or poor health said this impacted them more than others.
In conclusion, the foundation suggests that providing "stable insurance coverage, access to telehealth and mental health services, and availability of safe, in-person care" can better support women's health now and in the future.
Article Originally Published on ACOG Career Connection