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The pandemic’s unequal toll on women

April 22, 2021 | Womens Health Care

A mother works on her laptop while entertaining her two children at the kitchen table.

A year after the COVID-19 pandemic began, women are still bearing the brunt of its damage: lost wages, lost childcare support, and now, a reported loss of medical care.

According to a new poll, women missed 38% of their annual checkups during the pandemic compared to 26% of men.

“When medical appointments and screenings are missed, chronic conditions like hypertension and diabetes may go undiagnosed and cancer risks may grow,” explains Dr. Joanne Armstrong, Chief Medical Officer, Women’s Health and Genomics for CVS Health.
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Beyond annual checkups, women are missing more medical tests and treatments when they’re unwell (23% vs. 15%). Women in poor health fared worse, missing 46% of appointments and 32% of tests and treatments.

As the stress builds, women are also three times more likely than men to report mental health challenges, Armstrong says.

Joy Moy is mentally exhausted. A doctor of acupuncture and integrative medicine in New York, her practice shut down for months, while her children learned remotely at home and her husband worked extended shifts.

“I have gained weight and lost sleep,” Moy says. Although she’s fully vaccinated, she has missed a mammogram, a dental checkup and other regular exams.

“There hasn't been adequate time to schedule appointments, and when I'm available, appointment times aren't,” she says. “What if I did miss a lump that would be seen in a mammogram?”

Moy hears similar stories from her female patients who are taking on additional caregiving duties.

Doctor Joy Moy poses for a picture wearing black-framed glasses and blue scrubs.
Dr. Joy Moy has felt the strain caused by the pandemic.

“Women, in general, are always taking care of everybody,” she says. “When the pandemic hit, we just relegated ourselves to believe that we were last on the list.”

For anyone who delayed care — especially those living with chronic diseases, it’s time to get back on track, says Dr. Kenneth Snow, clinical portfolio medical director in CVS Health’s Transformation Section.

“While a person may not be getting diagnosed, their body is still living with a condition that is untreated and, depending on severity, could be beginning to cause damage that is preventable,” he says. Most medical offices are now safe to visit, most providers are vaccinated, and telemedicine is widely available, Snow says. “We’re not going to go backwards on that.”

Armstrong agrees. “It is time to come back to health for ourselves and for our children,” she says. “It’s time to heal.”