Blog Post

Healthcare Upside/Down: Women’s Health—Not Just an Imperative but Good Business

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ECG’s radio show and podcast, Healthcare Upside Down, offers unfiltered perspectives on what’s working in US healthcare and what’s not. Hosted by ECG principal Dr. Nick van Terheyden, each episode features guest panelists who explore the upsides and downsides of healthcare in the US—and how to make the system work for everyone.

Maternal mortality is widely acknowledged as a general indicator of the overall health of a population, the status of women in society, and the functioning of the health system. The United States spends a large proportion of resources on healthcare, yet we rank at the bottom of developed countries when it comes to maternal mortality.

Maternal deaths have been on the rise in the US for the past several years: 658 deaths in 2018, 754 in 2019, and 861 in 2020 (the most recent year for which we have data). The most recent rate equates to 23.8 deaths per 100,000 population—disproportionately affecting Black women by a factor of 2.5. By comparison, the top-performing countries (Norway, Italy, Poland) have just 2 deaths per 100,000 population.

“Women are dying,” says Tessa Kerby, a senior manager at ECG Management Consultants. “The disparities between different races of women as they experience maternal health is a really crucial issue.”

Our guests on episode 21 of Healthcare Upside Down are Tessa Kerby, Senior Manager at ECG Management Consultants, and Vicki Lucas, PhD, president of Vicki Lucas LLC, Women’s Health Business Consultants

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Maternal health is only one area where women aren’t getting the right level of care. Vicki Lucas, president of Vicki Lucas LLC, Women’s Health Business Consultants, explains that women account for more than 60% of cardiovascular, cancer, and neuro mental health cases, and some 70% of orthopedic cases. Yet despite utilizing more healthcare services than men and spending more on their care, Vicki says “our outcomes are not any better, nor are the services matched appropriately to what women’s needs are. We really need to customize the care so that it’s gender- and culturally specific to women.”

Vicki is one of the foremost leaders in women’s and children’s health, serving on the boards of many major women’s health organizations. Tessa is the leader of ECG’s women’s health service line, and she’s helping executives rethink their women’s health strategies to keep up with market demands and trends. They join us on episode 21 of Healthcare Upside Down to talk about why healthcare organizations need to reassess the way they care for their female patients.

Here are a few excerpts.

The changing economics of women’s health.

Tessa: “We’re in a renaissance of women’s health right now, with $1.3 billion in funding over the last year—the biggest area of venture capital funding. There’s a ton of change and opportunity being recognized in women’s healthcare, and it’s really unprecedented. So it’ll be interesting to see how those open opportunities open up and allow for actual, real change to happen in the space of the next few years.”

Vicki: “Women, and particularly younger women, are more empowered consumers. And so I believe this renaissance is going to become the new normal, and that you will see long-term change in measurement and accountability. From an economic perspective, it makes sense. Not only is it the right thing to do, and obviously it’s going to improve the health of the nation, but economically, we are spending a lot of money and having poor outcomes, which is unacceptable.”

Reforming maternal health.

Tessa: “It’s becoming more and more important for health systems and society to say, ‘this is not OK, and we need to figure out ways to fix this.’ Women need to have the right support before, during, and after childbirth. We need to make sure they’re having a good experience, and frankly, are living through this, and that it’s equal across all strata of society.”

Vicki: “We know that the health of women and children determines the health of a society; it’s a public health measure. And we know in the United States, we’re doing very poorly as a civilized, advanced nation. And so there’s a lot of light being shone on it.”

The need for customized care.

Vicki: “Why are women five times more likely to have autoimmune diseases? Why are 70% of orthopedic patients women? Because being a female is a preexisting condition. It is genetically who and how we are. And so I think we need to educate the next generation of providers and understand females’ different risk factors.”

Tessa: “I think it would be helpful to borrow from the model that we see in behavioral health where you’ve got behavioral health providers integrated into primary care and vice versa. A primary care provider can say to their behavioral health counterpart, ‘I have a situation, how can you help me?’ So what we have to advocate for is having destination centers, or having centers where you don’t have OB out on its own little island, but actually integrated. So as much as we can bring in collaborative care, across disciplines, it will help advance women’s care.”

Tessa and Vicki explain why advancing women’s health services makes good business sense for healthcare organizations.

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