How can brands use digital technology to help close the gender health gap?
This year’s International Women’s Day theme is all about examining how innovation and technology can help to achieve gender equality. At Curious Health, we are exploring the ways in which brands can use digital technology to help close the gender health gap to help improve women’s health outcomes.
But first, what is the gender health gap?
A term you might have heard surrounding the Women’s Health Strategy last spring, the gender health gap refers to the inequalities in the health of men and women. Women have been found to face significant barriers to accessing healthcare, receiving delayed or incorrect diagnoses, or feeling as though their symptoms have not been taken seriously by healthcare professionals. This has led to women having poorer health outcomes than men in many areas, from reproductive health to mental health and beyond.
The causes of the gender health gap are numerous and layered. On the side of research and development, women have historically been excluded from clinical trials, limiting the understanding as to how certain conditions and treatments may differ based on gender, as well as a lack of women in the field to challenge perceptions and offer a woman’s perspective on care. Women’s previous experiences also play a role, with the stigma surrounding sexual and reproductive health and dismissal or minimisation of symptoms and pain by some health care practitioners (such as performing a cervical biopsy without a local anaesthetic) playing into some women’s hesitation to seek care.
However, with the rise of digital technology, brands have an opportunity to help close the gender health gap.
Tap into the power of AI
It’s no secret that AI presents many opportunities to health brands, but it can play a crucial role in helping to close the gender gap. Tools like ChatGPT can be a powerful vehicle for delivering information to a variety of audiences, though it does have its limitations: it still relies on pre-2021 content and can sometimes generate content with data bias. When used with care, AI can provide tailored advice to different audiences, making it that much easier for women and girls to have the information they need at their fingertips. AI-powered chatbots can easily be integrated into websites or apps to provide immediate support or answers to common health questions. These can be specifically designed around certain topics for certain audiences, meaning brands have the power to provide their audience with everything from answering questions about sexual and reproductive health and puberty in an age-appropriate and empowering manner to be able to provide adult women with guidance on how to manage symptoms of and help prevent urinary tract infections.
Chatbots can also be trained about a particular medication, treatment, or condition, being able to instantly provide answers on common side effects, reminders to help with medication and treatment adherence, or being able to advise if symptoms experienced after treatment are normal or may require immediate medical attention. The power of chatbots in closing the gender health gap extends beyond women’s health, being able to recognise where women may present with different symptoms than men, such as with a heart attack, and can advise on seeking appropriate medical advice.
By providing women with personalised, discreet, and immediate support and guidance through the use of AI-powered chatbots, brands can help address some of the key causes of the gender health gap. Chatbots can allow women and girls to receive accurate health advice without fearing shame or judgement, as well as delivering the information women need at the moment they need it without having to wait to speak with a GP or navigating the burden of moving around work or caring responsibilities to be seen.
As we’ve discussed before at Curious Health, the patient voice is one of the most important parts of a successful health communications programme. With social media, it’s now easier than ever before to gain powerful insights into the experiences of patients. Social listening tools allow brands to monitor online conversations and trends related to women’s health, allowing them to identify unmet needs, common experiences or questions, gaps in knowledge on a certain health issue, or other trends.
By listening to the needs, experiences, and concerns expressed online, brands are better able to identify solutions that work for women. Social listening tools can help identify ways to design better healthcare initiatives, opportunities to raise awareness or improve knowledge, or prompt conversations about how to improve the patient experience. Social listening tools are also a great way to track the effectiveness of campaigns, such as educational videos about breast self-examinations or inter-menstrual bleeding or raising awareness on differences in clinical presentation of conditions between men and women.
Social listening tools can help to close the gender health gap by identifying areas in which brands can better meet the needs of women and girls, recognising opportunities to educate their audience or understanding ways in which care can be provided in a more compassionate manner to women. Social listening tools can ensure that the voices of women and girls are not only heard but validated in their healthcare.
Take things online
While online healthcare and advice has become more common since the COVID-19 pandemic, its potential has yet to be fully realised by many. Digital technology has made it easier than ever before for brands to meet the needs of women, providing ample opportunities to educate women on their bodies, health conditions, and improve access to healthcare in the long term.
Brands can create and distribute videos, guides, e-books, and online courses to provide women and girls with the information they need to better understand their health and care for themselves. By sharing this information in an accessible format, brands can empower women and girls to take control of their health, make informed decisions, and better advocate for themselves in the consultation room. Educational content can be tailored to a range of ages, whether addressing questions of menstruation for young girls to providing advice on managing symptoms of menopause. Educational content can also act as a powerful tool to dispel harmful narratives and the taboo around women’s health, addressing misinformation and myths.
Taking appointments online can also help in improving women’s access to healthcare, allowing them to connect with healthcare professionals at a time that suits them. Especially for women who live in rural areas, have mobility issues, or are lower income and less able to take time away from work, virtual appointments can be especially helpful in reducing barriers to accessing healthcare. Virtual appointments can also work to improve follow-up care and support, allowing multiple opportunities for patients to ask questions or express concerns, as well as helping to support treatment adherence. Connecting with patients virtually is also a great way to provide women with care they might not otherwise be able to access locally or at the needed frequency, such as talking women through pelvic floor physio exercises or by accessing talking therapies for those who experience post-partum depression or anxiety. Offering virtual appointments can help to improve the gender health gap by reducing the risk of women falling through the cracks of the healthcare system, and ensuring care is timely and accessible.
Despite the internet presenting a wealth of opportunities to help close the health gap, digital exclusion can still prevent many across the UK from reaping its benefits. Many people still struggle to access the internet for a variety of reasons: the cost of devices and services, inability to access the internet in their area, or not having the confidence or digital ability to use the internet. Digital exclusion is most likely to be experienced by older people, people with disabilities, and people with limited English. While virtual healthcare delivery has the potential to reduce health inequalities, its impact cannot fully be felt without addressing the barriers that prevent individuals from being able to access the internet with confidence.
There are a variety of ways that brands can use digital technology to help close the gender health gap.
- AI-powered chatbots have the potential to provide tailored support, guidance, and information in an instant.
- Social listening tools can help to identify unmet needs and opportunities to improve care.
- Online educational content can empower women and girls with more information about their health and can be used to educate others and change the narrative around women’s health.
- Virtual appointments and digital therapeutics can remove significant barriers to accessing care.
However, it’s important to remember that while digital technology can play an important role in improving women’s health outcomes, it’s not a panacea.
Closing the gender health gap: a long-term effort
Embracing digital technology to identify solutions to improve women’s health outcomes is an important step toward closing the gender health gap. Nonetheless, it’s important to recognise that this won’t happen overnight, nor will it be an easy problem to resolve. There are several underlying structural and systemic issues that contribute to the gender health gap: entrenched gender roles that often result in time poverty for women, the ways in which the gender pay gap can deter women from taking time away from work to seek care, and ill-informed assumptions about hormones or ‘overreacting’ about pain, to name a few.
Resolving the gender health gap will require sustained, concerted efforts from healthcare providers, policymakers, and companies working together. Brands embracing digital technology can play an integral role in closing the gender health gap, by improving access to healthcare, providing personalised guidance and support, addressing gaps in knowledge and raising awareness.
By leveraging digital technology in innovative ways, brands can help improve women’s health outcomes to create a more equitable healthcare system, ensuring that all women have access to the healthcare they need and deserve.
If you’re looking for ways to bring more impact to your health communication programme, we’d love to help. Drop us a line at – firstname.lastname@example.org