Interview with Dr. Christiane Groß, Chair of the Medical Advisory Board of Telematics for North Rhine-Westphalia and President of the German Medical Women's Association (Deutscher Ärztinnenbund e.V. / DÄB)
There are key differences between men and women, yet medicine has been treating both sexes the same for decades. As a result, women may not always receive the most optimal care. While there is now a shift in mindset, previous findings and outdated thinking patterns are far too often still finding their way into digital health services and technologies.
Dr. Christiane Groß
At virtual.MEDICA 2020, Dr. Christiane Groß gave a lecture titled"How Artificial Intelligence Continues the Gender Bias in Medicine" at the MEDICA ECON FORUM.In this MEDICA-tradefair.com interview, she talks about the origins of this issue, explains how it manifests itself in digital medicine and reveals what she wants for the future.
Dr. Groß, in what way does digital medicine have a gender problem?
Dr. Christiane Groß: First of all, we have a gender bias in analog medicine. This is especially apparent when it comes to medications. There have been some improvements in the past few decades but until a few years ago, newly developed drugs were only tested on a so-called standard man or reference person. Testing was not allowed on women. However, women respond differently to medications than men in many treatment cases. The same applies to symptom experiences. Heart attacks are well-known example of this. For decades, left arm pain has been touted as one of the most common symptoms of a heart attack, even though men are far more likely to exhibit this sign. Women tend to have other symptoms, including stomach pain or nausea and vomiting. Overall, too many areas in medicine today still do not make a clear distinction between women and men. And as long as this way of thinking has not permeated the analog world, it consequently cannot be transferred to the digital world.
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Women sometimes do not feel addressed by medical apps.
How does this issue manifest itself in the corresponding apps?
Groß: The problem is that gender aspects in analog medicine are predominately addressed by women. Meanwhile, there tend to be more men in IT, and especially in mobile app development. Many of them may not be aware of the issue, let alone automatically integrate it into their way of thinking. Subsequently, the female perspective is often missing in app development, which is why women frequently feel an app does not reflect them. Another possibility is that women have different expectations of the app than men or that the functional explanation does not appeal to women.
What would be a good starting point if we want to successfully address this problem in the future?
Groß: Development data must be disclosed. With old prescription drugs, we already know that gender aspects were not considered since they had not been tested on women. However, newer drugs must specify whether they meet a minimum of the corresponding gender requirements. Apps that have already been approved by health insurance companies would also have to disclose this data. It must be apparent whether gender aspects have been factored into the equation. Last but not least, all new apps should incorporate the gender aspect and the effectiveness must be evaluated after a set time. How are men affected by an app-controlled treatment? How are women affected? What are the behavior specifications for men and those for women? We must remember that technology can only translate and focus on what exists in the analog world.
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How would you like other to approach this issue in the future?
Groß: Unfortunately, gender medicine is often devalued and belittled as a feminist demand. Women are more likely to be consciously aware of it, though it is ever so slowly also making its way into the general medical society. This means we have a problem that has not yet been clearly identified and recognized as a problem. We therefore must continue to emphasize that this is not about favoring women or providing better care for women. After all, there are also many examples of men being at a disadvantage from a gender perspective. This includes depression. The most common symptoms of clinical depression mostly pertain to women. Men usually have different symptoms and often exhibit pain, prompting them to interpret the signs as a physical illness. As with a heart attack, this obviously doesn't mean men and women can't share the same symptoms. However, it should be a given to always take the different gender aspects into account. In light of the accelerated development speed of digital services, we simply waste valuable opportunities if we miss the chance to bring these insights into the digital world.
The interview was conducted by Elena Blume and translated from German by Elena O'Meara. MEDICA-tradefair.com