Women’s Health: Digital Tools Help Address Differences and Reduce Costs

A series on addressing chronic conditions through mental health care to improve outcomes and the bottom line

May is well-known for its celebration of Mother’s Day, but it’s also Women’s Health Month and the perfect time for health plans to evaluate ways to improve outcomes and lower costs associated with women’s health.

In fact, according to a recent report on advancing health equity published by The Commonwealth Fund, “Ninety percent of national health care expenditures are attributed to treating chronic and mental health conditions, both of which significantly impact adult women.”

Although it’s true women are four times more likely to reach age 100 than men, those who do tend to be in worse health than their male counterparts. The question is, why? The answer can be found in a variety of complex epidemiological and social circumstances and behaviors.

  • One study found per capita healthcare spending for females was 32% more than for males, regardless of age, service, or payer. 
  • Another study notes that women tend to use more services and spend more healthcare dollars than men. 
  • The greatest disparity is in women ages 45-64 with chronic conditions and menopausal symptoms. 

Since women are more likely to engage in healthcare services, health plans have increased opportunities to take a proactive, preventive approach. That includes digital tools and engagement opportunities. A Frost & Sullivan report notes, “Seventy-five to eighty-five percent of women are likely to use digital tools for their healthcare needs when compared to men.” Such technology enables health plans to better screen, monitor, and treat women for behavioral health conditions that can, in turn, impact physical health outcomes and costs. To support women’s health in the most cost-efficient way, health plans must look at gender differences holistically. 

Opportunities for improved engagement and outcomes

Women play a central role in healthcare decision-making for themselves and their families. Primary healthcare concerns for women include chronic disease management and mental health, alongside reproductive health and family caregiving issues. Thus, it’s meaningful that female caregivers are more likely than men to develop anxiety and depression, which increase the risk of acute and chronic physical health problems such as heart failure, osteoporosis, diabetes, and stroke. Indeed, depression is nearly two times more common among women than men.

Historically, health plans have been challenged to identify members (whether male or female) with chronic conditions and behavioral health comorbidities. Unfortunately, this absence of behavioral health data means those comorbidities are often unknown and/or unaddressed, making it hard for health plans to manage individuals’ risk effectively. Once again, technology can help health plans better identify individuals’ risk and support chronic physical conditions by addressing contributing behavioral health factors.

As a gender differences study concluded, “When reviewing strategies for reducing health care costs, managed care organizations (MCOs) should focus on the management of postmenopausal women.” Don’t miss the opportunity whether during Women’s Health month or throughout the entire year, to assess women’s health offerings and consider a holistic, preventive approach to lowering costs and improving outcomes. 

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