Women deserve healthcare that meets their needs. Yet in recent years, article after article has shown that there are serious gaps in care—and too often little regard for what women actually want and need.
Health outcomes and healthcare can greatly affect other areas of women and girls’ lives. Good health enables participation in the social and economic life of one’s community. Poor health can lead to less schooling and hurt women’s ability to reach their professional potential. International law recognizes a right to the “highest attainable standard of health,” and yet women and girls are often told that the symptoms they experience are simply part of being a woman.
These symptoms—such as acne weight gain, depression, migraines, pain, irregular bleeding, and conditions such as polycystic ovarian syndrome— are often signs of hormonal imbalances. They can have a profound effect on a woman’s ability to participate in the workforce. They can also have serious long-term health consequences, and affect her ability to achieve their family planning goals. A failure to meet these needs is a failure to ensure that women are able to realize their goals and contribute to their communities.
Yet many women’s concerns are disregarded or, if they do receive treatment, it is often through the provision of hormonal contraceptives. Such contraceptives may alleviate symptoms, but they fail to treat the underlying causes of hormonal imbalances and restore the necessary and delicate balance that women need for optimal health. Moreover, hormonal contraceptives carry their own risks; many women experience unpleasant side effects, and some women cannot or do not want to use them.
Women deserve better.
Better healthcare for women starts with informed choice. Women need the ability to make decisions free of coercion on the basis of options, information, and understanding. A meaningful choice of treatments requires more options than symptom management or continuing to suffer. Also, there is evidence to suggest many women lack key information about their reproductive health and its connection to their overall health. Women cannot make informed choices if they do not understand how their bodies work and how various treatments affect their bodies.
Real health education empowers women. Women who understand their health are better able to access the healthcare that they need. They know when they need to seek medical help, ask more questions, and better understand the treatments and instructions doctors provide. This turns women into active participants in their care.
Fertility Education & Medical Management (FEMM) is a knowledge-based health program for women inspired by the right of women to be informed participants in their own healthcare. In line with this mission, it offers education for women, teaching them about the health-hormone connection and how to track hormonal activity, identifying healthy patterns and hormone problems, and explaining how to use FEMM as a method of family planning. FEMM’s free mobile app, now available in English and Spanish on Apple and Android phones, supports women as they chart their health.
Doctors need to be able to identify the precise hormonal imbalance in order to treat it, but have often lacked the tools to do so. Hormonal health is a delicate balance requiring sufficient levels of nine essential hormones in a pattern to achieve ovulation, a key health indicator for women. FEMM’s researchers have developed medical protocols to ensure that women can receive this level of care through existing health infrastructures. These protocols provide a diagnostic guide to ensure that women get a pinpoint diagnosis and treatment tailored to their particular needs.
Doctors trained in FEMM’s medical protocols are better able to take women’s symptoms seriously. They work with the patient, often spending a significant amount of time getting her full history and understanding her concerns. FEMM doctors use tailored lab tests to create a complete hormonal profile and identify the precise hormonal imbalances. Patients are informed about how diet and lifestyle choices affect their hormonal health and receive medical support to restore healthy hormonal function.
FEMM’s approach differs from existing medical models. It is less commodity-based, less reliant on surgical intervention, and requires a greater investment of time up front. But it also takes women’s concerns seriously and offers real solutions.
Authentic healthcare empowers patients and restores their health. When so many women rely on symptom management rather than real treatment, it is a sign that we have failed to meet women’s needs. It is up to us to ensure that women receive the care they need in order to thrive. FEMM offers an innovative way to realize that goal.