During the month of May, women are inundated with messages to visit their primary care provider and get screening tests done as part of awareness efforts for National Women’s Health Month. For many women, keeping track of what tests to get, or when to get them, can be difficult and confusing. Over the past few years, numerous women’s health guidelines, especially those related to screenings, have gone through major changes. Add these changes to the already confusing health care system and a woman’s hectic life—often involving the balance of children, job, and household—and it’s no wonder that many women have a hard time knowing what they really need to do to care for themselves.
This is where shared decision making plays a crucial role in women’s health. Shared decision making provides the opportunity for each woman to discuss with her provider what screenings and tests she really needs. “While many of our patients hear about these changes briefly in the news, when it comes to a woman’s own health, the best way to make a decision about screening tests is during a thoughtful discussion with her health care provider,” says Healthwise Medical Director Kathleen Romito.
Take, for example, the breast cancer screening tool, mammograms. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force guidelines recommend that women should get a mammogram every 2 years, starting at age 50. The American Cancer Society, however, recommends that women get yearly screenings starting at age 40. In addition to the conflicting guidelines, recent debate has questioned the benefits of mammography in general. There is disagreement about just how many lives are saved by annual screening and if getting a false positive is really a downside to being vigilant about finding cancer early. A shared decision making conversation allows a woman and her care provider to address these conflicting recommendations and take into account the woman’s medical history and personal preferences to arrive at a consensus about mammograms or any other health care decision.
In honor of Women’s Health Month, we encourage every woman to engage with her clinician in a shared decision making conversation about her health and health care decisions. We invite you to view and share these women’s health resources from Healthwise.