Private Thoughts - Pain and Gender

2 Minutes Read

Private Thoughts is an initiative to create a way to share inner thoughts on sensitive topics that are traditionally difficult to research.  This is possible by using the latest in Conversational AI technology to engage with a large group of people about sensitive topics.  By talking with a non-judgmental and inquisitive chatbot people can openly and safely discuss their private thoughts, without fear of judgement or repercussion.

For this latest study we have explored the topic of Pain and Gender in conjunction with Jean Hailes Foundation, a national not-for-profit organisation dedicated to improving women's health across Australia through every life stage.  We undertook a 4-5 minute national online survey of males and females aged 18+. 

We explored:

  • Current level of physical health
  • Pain events experienced in the last 6 months and what was done, including medical intervention
  • Severity of each pain experienced
  • Consultation outcomes for the most recent pain presented to a doctor, satisfaction with the doctor’s response
  • Our proprietary Conversational AI solution, EVE™ probed conversation about the what the doctor said, did and how people felt about the response
  • Experiences when visiting a doctor about pain

The study was undertaken in December 2023 and n=602 people responded.

Pain and Gender

​Key Findings and Implications

Women feel more pain, men more likely to visit the GP at the same level of pain.

The study revealed that, on average, women experience and rate their pain more intensely than men across nearly all pain categories. They also experienced a wider range of types of pain than men.  Despite this, women were less likely to report feeling "down in the dumps" because of their pain, suggesting they have a greater resilience. This may explain why women were also less likely to visit their GP across various types of pain, including back, neck, headache and post-surgery pain.  

Men reported feeling healthier overall (rating their health at 6.9 out of 10 versus 6.5 for women) but results suggest they visit the GP at lower thresholds of pain than women. For example, men will consult their doctor on average for joint pain at a self-assessed level average of 7 out of 10, while women tend to wait until the pain intensifies to 7.8 out 10 on average.   

Men and Women have similar experiences with pain at the GP 

Satisfaction levels with doctors' responses to pain were high across the board, even when no pain relief was offered, showcasing a generally positive outlook towards GP interactions in Australia.  

However, overall, around one in five (22%) of participants said their pain was not taken seriously by the GP they visited. There were no differences between genders on this measure. A small minority of people perceived their treatment to be influenced by their gender, although, this was mostly seen as appropriate.  Overall, the study found women reported being referred for more tests than men (35% versus 22%). 

The study also found people are more likely to feel listened to, taken seriously and agree the treatment was effective when seeing their regular and familiar doctor as opposed to a new and unfamiliar doctor or clinic.  This is by far a more important factor than gender. 

  • Positive doctor-patient interactions can lead to increased patient satisfaction and involvement in their own treatment plans, potentially leading to an increased likelihood of following advice and achieving better outcomes. 
  • Positive interactions are more likely to lead to ongoing doctor-patient relationships that can last for many years. The relationship is more personal, and patients feel known and well taken care of. 
  • When interactions are not positive, patients feel uncared for, unheard and the cause of the pain is not properly addressed.   

What can we learn from this research?

These results tell us that the relationship between patients and GPs is important to people feeling heard and taken seriously – this is true of men and women. It highlights how important policy settings are that don’t treat consultations as a ‘transaction’ but rather as a more holistic experience grounded in familiarity, understanding and trust. We encourage the Government to consider policy that allows people develop a long-term relationship with their GP.

Further information is available at our dedicated Private Thoughts website.  

Picture of Tracey Rankin

Tracey Rankin

Tracey is a qualitative researcher driven by an insatiable curiosity about human behaviour and adept at unravelling the underlying motives behind people’s choices and behaviour. She is also the founder of Alchemy Research & Insight Pty. Ltd.