Date: July 1st, 2005
Having a healthy family is so important to women, they give their family’s health more priority than their own. This is according to Women Talk, a national survey commissioned by the National Women’s Health Resource Center (NWHRC) which explores women’s knowledge, attitudes, and perceptions about their health.
In fact, when asked to define what “being healthy” meant to them, more survey respondents chose “having a healthy family” than any other definition, including “being physically active” and “not having chronic diseases.”
It may not be surprising, then, that nearly three-fourths of the respondents reported taking on the role of “health manager” for their families. This role included choosing a health care provider and deciding when to take family members to visit the doctor.
What was somewhat surprising, said Amy Niles, president and CEO of NWHRC, was the fact that women view the added responsibility of managing their family health care as having a positive impact on their own health.
“It’s that connection with family, and how they perceive being in control and just taking care of others as being good for oneself too,” she said.
Conceding that taking care of family members could indeed be good for one’s health, Niles was quick to caution that the idea could be taken too far.
“Women need to focus more on their own health. It was clear from the survey that women do a real good job of taking care of everyone else first, and their own health so often comes last,” she said.
Taking information a step further
The findings of the survey indicated that women are informed about their health and aware of the risks they face. A majority of respondents correctly identified the leading cause of death among women of all ages – heart disease. And a large majority of women were familiar with preventive screening guidelines, accurately identifying the need for such tests as Pap smear, mammograms, bone density, and cholesterol.
Most women are acting on these guidelines. Three-fourths of respondents said they had a Pap smear within the last year, and two-thirds had a pelvic exam. Two-thirds of women over 40 had a mammogram and 41 percent of women over 50 reported having a bone density test.
But when it comes to steps women said they would need to take to be healthier, they were not as likely to have acted. For example, while respondents indicated that their health would be better if they reduced stress in their lives, only half said that they had taken steps to do so within the past year.
“It’s hard to do, but we need to just take those few minutes every day to do something for our health,” Niles said. “It could be taking a few minutes to schedule a doctor’s appointment, schedule a mammogram, or going out for a walk. In the long run, those few minutes add up to really improving your health.”
In another key finding, the survey showed that both consumers and health care professionals have work to do when it comes to communicating with each other.
Three-fourths of women said they were most likely to get their information on health issues from their health care provider. Most trusted information provided by health care professionals more than any other source by a large margin. Yet many respondents also felt that providers could do a better job talking about wellness strategies, such as stress management and health screening.
And despite their trust in their physicians, few women reported that they prepare themselves to get the most out of their office visits. Only 4 out of 10 women reported that they come up with lists of questions ahead of time.
“We often don’t begin that dialogue in that 10 minute office visit for many reasons,” Niles said. “It could be pure embarrassment over an issue; it can be that you’re focused on what the physician thinks is the agenda. It’s really important that, in that initial few minutes of the visit, you speak up and raise the issues that are really on your mind.”
Preparation opens up dialogue between women and their providers
Over half of the respondents said they had used the internet to find information on health issues. More than 9 out of 10 though the information they found was helpful.
Niles advises women to take advantage of the Web to help them communicate with their doctors. She suggests looking up basic information regarding you health concerns online, then using that information to come up with questions for your next appointment.
Even if women are not visiting their physicians with specific health concerns, they can still prepare for office visits by educating themselves about preventive screenings, Niles said.
“The health care professional may do a very good job of recommending and knowing what you need, but maybe not,” Niles said. “If you’re 50 years of age, the physician may or may not be saying ‘It’s time for your colonoscopy.’ So that’s the role of the woman to understand that there may be tests or certain screenings that are appropriate for me based on my age or my ethnicity, even if I don’t have a family history for those diseases.”
To learn more about the Women Talk survey, visit the NWHRC web site at www.healthywomen.org.