Study shows prescription gender gap

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Women are simultaneously given more drugs than men and undertreated, according to a study Medco and the Society of Women's Health Research.

The report found that these seemingly contradictory trends are part of an overall gap in understanding how the health of women and men differs from the point of physician interaction through compliance.

“I think physicians need to know this and need to know there may be unconscious biases against managing women the same as managing men, or there might be a lack of knowledge about the gender differences in management,” Dr. Chris Carter, vice president of scientific affairs at the Society for Women's Health Research, told MM&M.

Among the study's findings, based on 30 million prescription records from January through December 2010: doctors prescribed cholesterol-lowering medications for 59% of women compared with 71.5% of men, and beta-blockers were only prescribed for 63% of female heart attack patients, compared with 69% of men.

The report also found that women were prescribed an average of 5 medications, while men were given an average of 3.7 and that women were less likely to stick with their medication regimens. On the diabetes front, this translated into just 30% of diabetic women testing their blood glucose levels, compared with 35% of men.

Carter said the difference in how doctors managed heart disease for women and men was a big surprise, and contributed to the study's larger message: “If you look at each of these categories and each of these metrics the women are always doing more poorly than the men on everything,” she said.

The data did not reveal why women are falling behind on their medications or why their health is being managed differently from a physician standpoint. However, Carter said the discrepancies indicate that a shift is needed to properly address women's health.

The numbers flip, however, when looking at more superficial measures. For example, Medco found that women play excellent defense, outpacing men when it comes to colon cancer screenings, monitoring the cholesterol for which they aren't receiving medications, and for immunizations.

Carter said the society plans additional studies, but these findings could spur discussions about possible changes. “Maybe the final take home is that gender-specific treatment guidelines should be generated. Not gender-neutral,” she said.
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