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Posted December 21, 2017

Addressing Sex-Based Differences in Lung Treatment

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Once considered a taboo topic, gender is now an increasingly important part of the patient care journey as research shows some diseases present primarily, differently, or exclusively in women rather than men. For example, in cases where women and men have the same degree of airway obstruction from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), women report more anxiety and depression, worse symptoms, a lower capacity to exercise, and worse overall health-related quality of life compared to men. In addition, women’s lung diseases are generally diagnosed and treated at lower rates than men—a statistic that sheds light on a significant gap in healthcare.

In an effort to address disparities like these at the Temple Lung Center, the new Women’s Lung Disease Program is the first of its kind in the region that makes it possible for female patients to now identify and select female doctors who have an extensive understanding of sex-based health differences. Providers in the program also pay close attention to external variables—such as home and work environments—to factor in how those, too, may impact women patients in different ways than men.

“We are creating a supportive environment where we can be more sensitive to the unique needs of female patients,” says Dr. Jamie Garfield, one of seven female doctors championing the initiative. “The more intentional we are about the need to identify areas of disparity, the more sensitive we are with our patients.”

We are creating a supportive environment where we can be more sensitive to the unique needs of female patients"

Dr. Jamie Garfield

Growing up in a diverse community in Manhattan, Dr. Garfield began her career working in public health in New York. After meeting many patients who struggled to access “safe and reliable medical care from compassionate providers,” she decided she wanted to do more than just research. “It no longer felt satisfying to study and write about problems from an academic’s desk,” says Dr. Garfield. “I wanted to be part of the solution on the ground. I wanted the privilege to learn from and take care of another human being.”

Today, Dr. Garfield has been practicing pulmonology and critical care medicine for more than 15 years. An active member of the LGBTQ community, she’s also a long-time advocate for listening to traditionally underserved groups. In fact, she says the new program is largely a result of her female patients sharing they prefer a doctor of the same sex. 

“We know some female patients—including ourselves when we’re in the waiting room—may be more comfortable being cared for by a provider of the same sex,” says Dr. Garfield. “There’s a level of trust that a female patient affords a female provider that may be very different in another situation. The Women’s Lung Disease Program is organized in a way to accommodate and nurture this need.”

At the end of the day, Dr. Garfield says it’s all about improving patient care: “We have a responsibility to provide safe and clear access to community education and clinical care to our patients. Women are an understudied and an underrepresented group of people who make up 50 percent of our population, so this is a start... and that’s why I am proud to practice at Temple.”