One-third of B.C. women not getting sufficient health care: study
VANCOUVER - A new report by BC Women's Health Foundation reveals a major gender gap in the province's health care system.
"Women are not feeling heard by the health care system in the province of B.C.," said Genesa Greening, president and CEO of the foundation.
Of the 1,000 B.C. women surveyed, 31 per cent said they do not feel their needs are being met.
"Those percentages go up substantially when you look at other sub-populations, like Indigenous women, where that number actually goes up to three-quarters," explained Greening.
"Women who are experiencing chronic health care conditions – which is also a large number of our population, it's four in 10 – are also feeling they don't get access to the health care they need in order to manage their health."
Just over half of the women surveyed felt that a physician had diminished or overlooked their symptoms.
Doctors say this is especially pronounced with chronic pain - in particular, women living with lyme disease, fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome.
"It can be very, very difficult for the doctors or the health care system to accurately diagnose because the research hasn't produced a bio marker, or the accurate blood test, or the accurate diagnostic mechanism," said Dr. Lori Brotto, executive director of Women's Health Research Institute.
Brotto is also a clinician and says she frequently sees patients that report waiting several years before getting an accurate diagnosis.
"When we're not able to easily say it's this due to this, it's much more likely that health care, and primary care doctors in particular to chalk it up to mental issues," explained Brotto.
It's a struggle Abbotsford mother Kristal Barrett-Stuart has been dealing with for years.
She began experiencing chronic pain in 2015 after getting bitten by a tick.
"I knew there's something wrong and the doctor just kept saying, 'Yeah, I think you need anxiety medication,'" said Barrett-Stuart in a video posted to her YouTube channel.
She posted a rant with the hashtag #lymeisreal in 2018, after she was unable to get the treatment she needed.
Two years, countless tests and nearly $100,000 later, she was diagnosed with lyme disease.
"I am full of anger, I am full of resentment, and I'm full of fear," said the mother through tears in her video.
Barrett-Stuart says she's frustrated she wasn't diagnosed sooner, but was thankful to finally get some answers.
"Just to feel heard and seen. I think that was the biggest relief I have ever felt," Barrett-Stuart told CTV News.
Her story is just one of many highlighted in the BCWHF report "In Her Words."
"I was about 34 when I finally had a diagnosis, which is unacceptable for someone to be in that much pain for that amount of time to the point that I was considering taking my own life," said Lindsay McCray, who is living with endometriosis.
McCray believes many women suffer in silence.
"That's where our health care system needs to do a much better job of listening to women and understanding female diseases and best practices for treatment," said McCray.
The province says it is making improvements to the system.
When asked about the report, Health Minister Adrian Dix noted that every regional health authority is run by a female CEO.
"We're changing those responsible. We're changing the chairs, a higher representation of women. We're listening women. We're making changes based on the recommendations of women who are speaking out," said Dix.
Advocates say what's needed is more funding for research.
"Women are raising children, the next generation, but fighting for their lives at the same time?" said Barrett-Stuart.