Clinical guidelines, clearer pathways of care and public awareness campaigns are just some of the approaches the government hopes will offset the years of inattention and disregard women with endometriosis have experienced.
The government has launched its National Action Plan For Endometriosis, aimed at speeding up diagnosis and improving the treatment of the condition.
This includes $1 million specifically to raise awareness among GPs and other front-line practitioners, partly through educational material and GP training and upskilling on the condition.
The plan also recommends training imaging specialists to identify features of the condition and to alert the patient’s GP when necessary.
Diagnosis of the condition, which affects an estimated 700,000 Australian women, often takes between seven and 12 years from symptom onset. Recent media coverage has highlighted the experience of many women who have dealt with pain and other symptoms for years without a diagnosis or proper treatment.
Sydney endometriosis expert Associate Professor Nesrin Varol said it was vital for girls and women to get an early diagnosis, saying treatment and surgery was “very effective” and could prevent years of pain and possibly infertility.
Encouragingly, Professor Varol said that she has seen women coming in at increasingly younger ages over the decades, indicating a welcome shift in society taking women’s issues more seriously.
But there was still work to do. “I reckon if it were men suffering from severe pain every month and they could not go to work for one or two days, the world would turn inside out trying to cure it,” the gynaecologist said.
Associate Professor Charlotte Hespe, head of primary care research at University of Notre Dame, said it was important to recognise the impact that endometriosis could have on a woman’s life.
The national action plan suggests GP Management Plans and Team Care Arrangements could be used to provide more holistic care.
While she welcomed the plan, Professor Hespe was cautious about not exacerbating issues for women by giving them a disease label when they may not have considered themselves as being ‘ill’ beforehand.
“Putting it on the agenda is fantastic,” Dr Hespe said, but added that the key test would be ensuring that all affected women had ready access to treatment, irrespective of whether they had private health insurance.
Dr Magdalena Simonis, a women’s health expert and GP academic at University of Melbourne, echoed these concerns, saying the bottleneck for laparoscopies for diagnosis and treatment could be over a year in the public system and unless more funding is allocated for hospitals, greater awareness may only exacerbate the problem.
But Dr Simonis also emphasised the plan was a first for endometriosis and “a really positive step forward in terms of addressing the gender imbalance in equity in healthcare”.
Women’s health experts hope that the money will help stoke important research in the field. One promising project under way is a urine test that would diagnose endometriosis based on biomarkers, saving women from invasive and potentially off-putting biopsies.