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Women’s Health Research: Progress, Pitfalls and Promise

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Title: Women’s Health Research: Progress, Pitfalls and Promise

Authors: Committee on Women’s Health Research

Publisher: The National Academies Press, 2010

Reviewer: Barbara O’Donnell, senior ODP, Whittington Health


What was it like?

More of a report in book-bound form, Women’s Health Research seeks to be a comprehensive review of the published research in the expanding areas of Women’s Health; not necessarily focused on the reproductive organs or their physiology. The authors are clear about their frustrations in looking at the volume and scope of available research, and the great difficulty in doing justice to this.  

Using research largely, but not entirely, based in the US (studies from Britain and Europe are included in the extensive reference sections at the end of each chapter), the book focuses on the female population of the US.

The following areas are used as the framework to explore progress in certain conditions:

  • Is current research focused on the most appropriate/relevant health conditions for women?
  • Is the research studying the most relevant groups of women?
  • Are the most appropriate research methods being applied?
  • Are research findings being used to effect changes in practice?
  • Are research findings being effectively communicated to female patients?
  • Current gaps in research
  • Review of key findings and recommendations based on same

The conditions explored range from those where the most progress has been made based on research, for example breast/cervical cancers and cardiovascular disease, through to conditions where little or no progress has been made, such as lung cancer, autoimmune diseases, maternal morbidity and mortality.

A chapter is included on research around determinants of women’s health, such as socio-economic factors and lifestyle habits. Where possible, gender biased studies are used, because certain conditions are clearly a female-only concern; while others, such as certain STI’s, have different or more profound potential consequences for women.

Along the way, the report takes into account the size, type and design of the studies looked at.


What were the highlights?

A thorough, modern review and summary of the main health conditions affecting women, taking into account many different factors, and showing how research is moving the knowledge and practice of women’s health to a more holistic viewpoint. One highlight is the  collation of all this information in order to make recommendations.

Strengths and weaknesses?

The committee involved in this report come from a variety of clinical backgrounds.  Progress over the last 20 years in specific conditions is covered, allowing the committee to identify gaps in research.  This may lead to new research needs being identified for certain groups, who may not be being studied sufficiently for their individual needs.

At times, due to the nature of the content, this book may be said to be heavy going.

You could argue that readers could  extrapolate the findings from those on US women to other female populations in first world countries but this may not always be practical for a variety of reasons.

Overall, this book does what it says on the cover, while acknowledging the enormous scope of the task undertaken, and being clear about the inability to include all conditions.

Who should read it?

All practitioners, clinical or research based, involved in Women’s Health, and those who have an interest in this area would find this book of interest.

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