Women’s Well Exam is Care from “Head to Toe”

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doctor speaks with patient via telehealth

When you start talking about “women’s health,” many people – including women – only associate it with exams like an annual Pap smear or pelvic exam. While those two exams are important components of a woman’s well care, that’s not all a provider who specializes in women’s health will discuss.

“We evaluate the whole woman, from head to toe,” explains Kalinda Woods, MD, obstetrician and gynecologist at Emory Healthcare. “When women come into our office, we want to see the complete picture.”

Dr. Woods also emphasizes, “There is a misconception: you may not need a Pap test every year, therefore we don’t still need to see you annually. That couldn’t be further from the truth.”

During a patient’s well care visit, the provider will talk to them about a wide range of topics, including:

  • Vital signs and what they say about your overall health
  • Cancer screenings you need based on your age and family history (including breast, cervical, colon, and skin cancers)
  • Reproductive health
  • Family planning
  • Mental health evaluation
  • Intimate partner violence
  • Contraception

“There are so many topics and health concerns we can help you address,” explains Dr. Woods. “The annual well woman exam is just a moment in time to reflect on what’s going on in your life and the unique concerns you may be facing as a woman.”

This approach to health is why Dr. Woods and her colleagues encourage patients to make their health a priority, even during COVID-19.

“Many are really dealing with a dual pandemic right now with COVID-19 and racism,” Dr. Woods states. “We are here to support our patients and their families however we can.”

Meeting Patients Where They Are

Research has shown that COVID-19 is impacting women far more disastrously than male counterparts. Women are more likely to experience domestic abuse during lockdowns and job loss – as many as 55% of Americans who lost their jobs in March and April were women.

Women are also more likely to be health care workers and serve as a single parent to children, which means many women have found themselves juggling schoolwork, childcare and domestic work in the middle of the pandemic.

And, even more concerning, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues to report disproportionately higher death rates among Black people. A recent study, “State of Black America Unmasked” from the National Urban League, found that Black Americans are three times more likely to get COVID-19 and twice as likely to die from the virus as White individuals. The study also found Black patients were less likely to be treated or tested for COVID-19 in February and March, with doctors often downplaying their symptoms.

An annual exam can’t fix any of these issues, but providers are available to listen and connect patients to much-needed resources.

“Women are under a great deal of stress right now,” Dr. Woods says. “The effects of stress are very well studied. Left unchecked and unmanaged, it can lead to high blood pressure, weight gain and depressive symptoms. Psychological distress is the enemy of public health.”

The impact of stress on women’s health is just another reason why emotional and mental health is at the forefront of the well visit.

“It starts with questions during a woman’s visit,” explains Dr. Woods. “We’ll ask: ‘How are you?’ ‘How are you coping?’”

“People really appreciate the opportunity to vent. And when they need it, we can connect them with the mental health support to help them stay healthy. It’s time to normalize mental health concerns, especially among women,” she finishes.

Dr. Woods recommends several techniques to help patients reduce their stress, including:

  • Mindfulness techniques, such as yoga or breathing exercises
  • Talking to friends
  • Physical activity
  • Healthy eating

“It can be really hard right now to take care of yourself because women are juggling so much,” Dr. Woods acknowledges. “You can still find the things you enjoy and modify them to our current situation – like meeting up with friends over Zoom or taking a walk around the block.”

Black women in particular are facing a challenging and emotional time. News reports of systemic racism, police brutality and even questions from well-meaning White friends often place the burden on Black women – a burden they don’t need to carry.

“We want Black women to know that we know. We understand. We are aware of the implicit bias in health care, the unique challenges they face, and are working to change those attitudes,” Dr. Woods clearly states. “It is finally being addressed at the highest levels of our organization. Women can feel very safe here. We are doing our best.”

A New Experience, New Opportunities for Connections

COVID-19 is also presenting new challenges – and opportunities – for patients to receive care.

“We want all people, especially women, to take care of themselves,” Dr. Woods says. “That’s why we are taking safety precautions very seriously at Emory and are making sure women have the options they want and need to continue receiving care – options like telehealth.”

Telehealth has been rolled out since the beginning of the pandemic, and its response has been favorable.

“People love telehealth,” Dr. Woods says. “No one’s late. You don’t have to sit in a cold exam room or fight traffic. It’s been a great option for many of the women we see, particularly for counseling visits.”

Emory Healthcare has also implemented many safety precautions across all locations to minimize the risk and exposure of COVID-19, including:

  • Screening all employees, patients and visitors at entrances
  • Requiring employees, patients and visitors to wear a mask
  • Limiting visitors at locations

The office where Dr. Woods practices has additional safety measures in place to protect patients’ health, including rescreening patients when they arrive in the office and staggering appointments to limit the number of people in the waiting room.

Another safety precaution that’s often met with disappointment is the inability to bring a support person to an appointment. For obstetrics patients, that means no partners or family members to milestone appointments, like ultrasounds.

“We know that pregnancy is a very special and unique time in life, and to exclude partners or a support person can be very upsetting,” says Dr. Woods. “These are things that are not ideal, but it is truly necessary to keep everyone safe and healthy.”

However, there is a silver lining for many: technology.

“We are happy to use Zoom or FaceTime to dial in a partner and, actually, the ultrasound images transmit even clearer over cell phones than in-person!” Dr. Woods happily shares.

“We are also willing to repeat things, answer questions from partners and do whatever we can to connect our patients and their partners during this very unique time,” she finishes.

Don’t delay your care. Schedule your annual well woman exam today. Emory Gynecology & Obstetrics is seeing patients both virtually and in-person. Request an appointment by calling 404-778-3401 or visit emoryhealthcare.org/physician-finder to find a provider.