General practitioners (GPs) contribute significantly to the healthcare of their female patients, with almost nine out of ten women seeing their GP in the previous 12 months.1 Women’s health-related matters are also the fifth most reported reason for presentation in general practice.2
GPs therefore need to be skilled in effectively and comprehensively managing many areas related to women's health. This includes issues related to the breast, female reproductive system and hormonal changes that can impact functioning and quality of life. One in two Australian women are estimated to have one or more chronic condition(s). Psychological issues are the most common chronic conditions in women,3 and research has shown that one in four women had spoken to their GP about their emotional and psychological health in the past year.4
General practice management of women’s health includes considering the different health outcomes that women experience compared to men. For example, women have a higher life expectancy than men and experience more of their total disease burden due to living with disease rather than from dying early from disease and injury.5 Nearly half (44%) of the total burden of disease for women is from cancer, followed by musculoskeletal conditions and cardiovascular disease.6 Breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed and the second most common cause of cancer death in women.5 GPs need to have a thorough understanding of the risk factors for breast, ovarian, cervical and uterine cancer and need to be competent in discussing cancer risks, promoting breast health awareness and arranging screening, appropriate investigations and managing any suspicious clinical presentations.7 A shared approach to survivorship care is beneficial, and GPs need to be skilled at communicating and working within multidisciplinary patient-centred teams.8
Family, sexual and domestic violence predominantly affect women. One in six women experience physical or sexual violence, and one in four women has experienced emotional abuse by a current or previous partner since the age of 15. Women with disabilities, women who live in rural and remote areas, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, and women who identify as lesbian or bisexual are twice as likely to report physical or sexual violence by a partner.9 GPs need to use a trauma-informed approach and be skilled in screening for domestic and family violence, assessing safety and providing patients with support and information about appropriate services.10
In managing women’s health, GPs also need to take into consideration the social roles and responsibilities expected of women, particularly regarding women being care providers to children and possibly ageing parents, and the associated physical and mental load. It is essential that all GPs advocate for gender equity and provide inclusive, individually appropriate healthcare to increase access to health services and reduce social and health inequalities experienced by socially disadvantaged women, rural and remote women, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, including refugees, and sexually and gender diverse individuals.