International Women’s Day 8th of March 2023: A Call to Reanalyze the Use of Technology to Effect Change in Women (with PD). By Maria De Leon

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It does not matter how Strong your Opinions are. if you don’t use your POWER for POSITIVE Change , you are indeed part of the problem.” ~ Coretta Scott King

Women’s Day dates to February 28th, 1909, on the advice of Theresa Malkiel. Theresa was the first American woman to rise the ranks from a factory worker to a leader of the socialist party. She was convinced that the only way to fight for women’s inequality was to band together.  Over a century now, the same principle holds true.

Fifty years, since the inception of a global celebration to address women’s accomplishments, some of the challenges and inequalities faced by many women around the globe have not advanced as fast as we would like it to be particularly in healthcare.

This year’s UN theme is “DigitALL : Innovation and Technology for Gender Equity.” Post Pandemic, the use of technology has skyrocketed, especially in medicine. Case in point this week as  I tried to take care of my husband’s and mothers’ medical needs including my own, I was not able to speak to a single person at first try while contacting the various healthcare providers offices, pharmacies, and insurance representatives. Despite multiple attempts in many cases I was only able to hear a digitized recording which directed me to the ‘patient portal’ never mind I may have neither accessible portal nor reliable internet. This got me thinking about what our true goal is. We are supposed to be empowering women and giving them tools to navigate their care in a manner to have greater access to care along with more resources. In theory digital technology is supposed to decrease disparities among groups of people and eliminate gender biases and improve inequalities. However, my personal observation and experience in caring for neurological patients is that the forced implementation of technology at medical institutions for instance while eliminating all other means of communication is alienating minority groups as well as the elderly, financially disabled and cognitively impaired patients. we know that about 40-50 % of patients with Parkinson’s can develop dementia.

We must not forget who it is we are trying to benefit and provide tools to overcome the challenge of being a single mom with a fixed income living with a progressive neurodegenerative disease for instance. We have to find innovative ways of engaging and teaching women around the globe in this case, how to use technology to serve as another tool for communication, access to health, and empowerment but NOT  the only choice or means of engaging the community.

To be successful in using much of  technology available one must have access to internet and know how to use it. I have several elderly close relatives who live alone and are otherwise independent. Yet, as many attempts have been made to incorporate into mainstream ways of accessing care, the challenges that have ensued can create an unnecessary burden and handicap when once there was none. Plus, circumventing these barriers and challenges of remotely facilitating supervision and care by a third party in a different city or state can lead to much agony and frustration as I have learned firsthand. Keep in mind that I am not only quite savvy as to how to navigate many situations especially in the healthcare system along with being extremely persistent yet frustration at times can hit the roof especially when considering my own disabilities.  According to a report cited by the UN 37% of women don’t even have internet (I would venture to say the percentage is much higher than this). Although, women account for nearly half the population, it is estimated that 259 million fewer women have access to internet. Now think about the fact that women already have lower income, lower education and live longer than men especially in minority communities such as the Hispanic/Latin, we are perpetuating gender inequality and will continue to do so unless we intervene. Technology should not be an end all be all but rather should be a tool in the armamentarium to help people in this case women get support be it financial, physical, or psychological to live the best life possible despite having a chronic illness. Since women are less likely to even own a mobile device by at least 12% around the globe only 25% is estimated to be connected especially in underdeveloped areas.

2nd problem is that women outnumber men in significant neurodegenerative disease which can affect cognition such as Alzheimer’s (it is believed that more than half are women), 70% of those living with MS are women and roughly about 40-50% of PD are women. Further it is estimated that about 25 % of  PD people living on Medicare are living in long term care facilities which we know don’t have access to digital technology commonly.

3rd problem we know that humans are social beings and that all of us do better when we are mentally and physically active but not just random activities but those with meaningful connections like having social interactions so as we become more digitally dependent we are becoming even more isolated  which does not help anyone living with neurological diseases like Parkinson’s which in women has even more negative impact because of tendency to have more depression, challenging the dogma of ‘first do no harm!’

Finally, as we face the last frontier in the treatment and care of women in Parkinson’s and try to bring equality, we must continue to appeal to healthcare professionals, public policy makers, Technology innovators and scientists and women of all walks of life to first band together to break down barriers; but also to remain steadfast as the guardians of humanity or we as women will continue to suffer the disparities. For it is only the combination of knowledge infused with the human touch that the true art of healing results and the only one capable of empowering change and decreasing the gap in women’s health.

All rights reserved by Maria L De Leon MD