Survey: 'Boomer' Women Tight-Lipped on Sensitive Issues with Physicians

January 31, 2011
Marisa Torrieri

New research reveals not enough is being in conversations between women ages 45 and older and their physicians. We have a couple of ideas on how to break down the communication barrier.

We’re seeing a lot of articles on how Web portals, e-mailing patients, and other high-tech communications practices and innovations are changing doctor-patient relationships for the better.

And as technologies emerge, many experts predict patients will become more interested in working with doctors to manage their own healthcare. (And more management equals better outcomes.)

But while high-tech communications are improving, some non-tech communications could stand to be improved. According to study released last week, doctors have a particularly difficult time communicating with women over the age of 45 on tough issues.

The survey of 712 North American female baby boomers, conducted by Harris Interactive and SCA, a maker of bladder-protection products and services, reveals that women in their 40s and older are more likely to suffer from chronic conditions quietly. Only 16 percent who partook in the “Boomer Women’s Health” survey of women ages 45 and over said they’re likely to discuss uncomfortable symptoms with a doctor.

What’s more, the survey also states that more than two-thirds of baby boomer women (67 percent) are less likely to see a physician if they think the symptoms they are experiencing are a "normal part of aging" and therefore may not seek solutions which can improve their quality of life. Twenty-six percent said they feel uncomfortable, embarrassed, or judged when discussing even common personal health issues with their doctors.

It’s not just the women: Doctors, too, aren’t initiating conversations with baby boomer women about sensitive topics such as bladder control issues.

"Breaking the doctor-patient communication barrier is incredibly important for all patients, but particularly boomer women," Dr. Cynthia Hall, MD, FACOG, founder and director for Center for Women's Continence and Pelvic Health at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, said in a press release.

We agree that it’s tough and sometimes embarrassing to talk to doctors about the gory details of our health issues.

That’s why we see improved communications as another supporting argument for why physicians should embrace e-mail with patients. (According to the 2010 Physicians Practice Technology Survey, only about 38 percent of respondents say they e-mail with patients). If you know more than a few people who are more comfortable with writing out their thoughts than saying them over the phone or in person, then you probably know more than a few baby boomer-age patients would feel more comfortable e-mailing their health issues to a doctor.

Opening the lines of cyber communication could break down some of the existing barriers that are inherent with traditional, face-to-face discussions. Plus, there are the other benefits, such as easier documentation (so you don’t have to transcribe phone conversations). If you’re a physician with an increasing number of patients over the age of 40, chances are they use e-mail to communicate already. So the transition wouldn’t be an uncomfortable one.

Have you found a way to tear down the walls when it comes to uncomfortable medical issues or patient shyness? Share with us below in the comments section.