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12th January 2017

Female doctors know best – so why are there too few in healthcare innovation?

Women do well in healthcare and healthcare does well because of women. But despite holding some of the top jobs in healthcare and delivering the best results in the clinic, women are still under-represented in health innovation. Things may be improving but 2017 needs to accelerate this shift and unlock equality – and new ideas.

Dr House, look away now: a new study shows patients treated by female doctors have better outcomes than those treated by males.

Male doctors might hope this was a small or skewed dataset, analysed by amateurs and published in an obscure journal. Sorry gents. The paper was published in JAMA Internal Medicine by a team at Harvard Medical School and it is based on hundreds of thousands of patients.

It found that older people treated as inpatients by female doctors had lower 30-day mortality (11.07% vs 11.49%) and lower 30-day readmissions (15.02% vs 15.57%). Translation: female doctors’ patients were less likely to die or be readmitted to hospital in the month after they were given discharged.

We probably shouldn’t be too surprised. Earlier research suggested that female doctors were more likely to implement best practice guidelines and take an evidence-based approach to treatment.

This is great news given that more women are becoming doctors than ever before. Women also hold some of the biggest jobs in health policy. Take the WHO, for example, where Margaret Chan is at the helm, and Zsuzanna Jakab is responsible for the European Region.

More innovators needed

However, it’s not all good news, there are too few women innovators – in all fields, including healthcare.

Last year we looked at the rise and rise of women in medtech. Other superstars bucking the trend are:

–          This group of teenage girls who came up with the world’s first real-time ‘text to Braille’ converter, winning first prize in a Hackathon. Their device is an easy way to connect blind people with a world of knowledge that is too often out of reach.

–          Inventors working in nanotech, fertility, mhealth, big data, and Parkinson’s disease.

Still, more incentives – and fewer barriers – may be needed. For its part, the EU is putting up big money as part of its Women Innovators Prize 2017. The top prize is €100,000!

Women represent only 30% of all entrepreneurs in Europe in Europe and are underrepresented at the top of many research fields – despite outnumbering their male counterparts when it comes to new life science graduates.

Reason for hope

But this should be cause for hope rather than pessimism. The huge number of skilled women emerging from science and engineering courses, as well as the stellar performance of female clinicians, make medtech the ideal sector for innovators to rise to the top.

The Women Innovators Prize is a good place to start. One of last year’s winners came up with a breakthrough that prevents harmful inflammations and the spread of cancer.

What will this year deliver?

The deadline is 8 March 2017 – International Women’s Day