Study shows women view health differently than industry thinks they do

Julia Taylor Kennedy
Julia Taylor Kennedy

A report by the think tank Center for Talent Innovation found that pharmaceutical companies, payers and healthcare professionals are ignoring women's needs and therefore the needs of the people they care for as well.

The study is unusual because the findings show that the report's sponsors—which include GlaxoSmithKline, Interpublic Group, Aetna and Pfizer—are the ones producing materials that miss the mark.

Co-authors Carolyn Buck Luce and Julia Taylor Kennedy joked that discussing the surprises tucked into the report would take around five hours, but the key concept that frames the findings is that the poll of 9,210 women across the US, UK, Germany, Brazil and Japan showed that women do not think about health in terms of sickness.

Instead, they see sickness within the context of wellness, which embraces the health needs that exist in the absence of sickness. This includes mental and physical health as well as quality of life. Further, this context of wellness is one that takes into account the health status of everyone whose healthcare decisions women oversee.

In other words, the women who need to be addressed by healthcare marketers are juggling a panorama of health needs instead of focusing on solving one person's health needs. This can include a woman worrying about how a child will be affected by a parent's illness in addition to caring for an ailing partner while also addressing the health and wellness needs of the others for whom they are responsible.

“There is not even the acknowledgment that this is a job,” Luce said.

Luce told MM&M that providing caregiver information is far from sufficient because caregivers only show up when someone is sick, while the woman who serves as the family's chief medical officer “shows up for wellness and can oversee the caregiver.” She added that the “CMO is agnostic about the disease but is in a position to make [things] happen.”

Luce and Kennedy said that failure to address this larger CMO perspective has an impact on how much women trust the information that is available to them, which undermines their confidence in whether they are making the right decisions.

More information is not the solution, for several reasons. Survey results indicated that 77% of women do not trust their health insurers and 83% do not trust pharmaceutical companies.

Kennedy told MM&M that this lack of industry trust goes beyond promotional materials and said women reported that the lack of women and ethnic diversity among clinical trial participants is a reason not to trust the pharmaceutical industry.

Time, in addition to trust, is an additional consideration. The researchers said that women want an efficient way to process the information they have. Mobile tools and conversations with healthcare practitioners who have time to discuss the benefits of a proposed treatment are helpful, but researchers say the CMOs need information assembled in the most efficient manner possible.

As an example, the report mentioned a mother who had to choose between two hospitals for her son's surgery. One hospital had the mother go to several meetings with different specialists, and the other had all of the specialists meet the parent at the same time to discuss the surgery. The mother told researchers she chose the hospital that put together one meeting because “they were putting his needs first and working as a team to produce the best outcomes.”

This all-around perspective was also captured in an effort Eisai made to help breast-cancer patients as part of its support program for Halaven, a drug that is used to treat patients with metastatic breast cancer. In this case, researchers said patients worry about being able to provide nutritious meals for themselves and their families while undergoing treatment. Eisai's solution was to create a meal-delivery program. The service included 10 meals a month and the option to tack on 10 more for family members.

The authors said that companies can accelerate the shift to materials that provide this wider health perspective by looking inward and tapping the experience of their female employees, who are having these very same struggles.

“This is a huge market failure,” Luce said.