Women need to be better represented on Australian clinical practice guideline panels
Women have been under-represented on Australian clinical practice guideline panels between 2010 and 2020, new analysis from Burnet Institute reveals.
In a paper published in the 6 February 2023 issue of the Medical Journal of Australia, Burnet researchers called for improved gender balance in the future and outlined ways it could be achieved.
Their analysis found of the 335 Australian clinical guidelines published between 2010 and 2020, over half had less than 40 per cent women in their guideline development groups.
The discrepancy was starker for some health topics – 80 per cent of cardiology guidelines and 67 per cent of nephrology guidelines were developed by panels with less than 40 per cent women.
Clinical practice guidelines are a key component of evidence-based healthcare, said Burnet research student, Dr Anna Shalit, lead author of the paper.
“Developing these guidelines is an important part of healthcare leadership,” Dr Shalit said.
“We already know that gender inequity in healthcare leadership can harm morale, lead to the loss of critical skills and have negative impacts on healthcare services.
“Redressing gender-based inequity can improve the production of scientific knowledge, medical practice and ultimately patient outcomes.”
It’s of particular concern that 80 per cent of cardiology guidelines analysed had less than 40 per cent women in their guideline development groups given the burden of cardiovascular disease in Australia and recognised gender-based differences in its diagnosis and treatment, Ms Shalit said.
The researchers recommended ways to improve the situation.
More structured, transparent selection processes could help correct imbalances as well as transparent reporting and regular auditing of guideline panels, said Professor Joshua Vogel, senior author of the paper.
For example, it could be a requirement that information on panel recruitment processes, funding sources and a list of all guideline panel members are included in all Australian guidelines.
“We’d encourage policymakers and guideline developers to consider the many benefits of equitable gender representation when convening guideline panels,” Professor Vogel said.
“And we’d like to see the effect of gender balance on guideline quality be investigated.”
While gender inequity in healthcare is a complex problem, the researchers argued it must be overcome to ensure high quality and equitable healthcare for all.