Original Research

Gender and Patient Satisfaction in a Veterans Health Administration Outpatient Chemotherapy Unit

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Background: Our objective was to explore whether differences in patient satisfaction based on gender exist at the Veterans Affairs Portland Health Care System (VAPHCS) outpatient chemotherapy infusion unit.

Methods: Veterans who received outpatient infusion treatments at the VAPHCS outpatient chemotherapy infusion unit from 2018 to 2020 were invited to take an anonymous survey. Response differences were analyzed using Fisher exact and Welch t tests. Male and female patient lists were first generated based on Computerized Patient Record System designation, then defined and results reported based on gender self-identification from survey responses.

Results: The survey was conducted over a 2-week period during January and February of 2021. In total, 69 veterans were contacted: 21 (70%) of 30 female and 20 (51%) of 39 male veterans completed the survey. Most (62%) female patients were aged < 65 years, and 52% were treated for breast cancer. Most (90%) male patients were aged ≥ 65 years, and most commonly treated for prostate cancer (20%) or a hematologic malignancy (20%). Using our survey, patient satisfaction (SD) was 8.7 (2.2) on a 10-point scale among women, and 9.6 (0.6) among men (P = .11). History of sexual abuse or harassment was reported by 86% of women compared with 10% of men (P < .001). Women reported feeling uncomfortable around other patients in the infusion unit compared with men (29% vs 0%; P = .02) and discomfort in relaying uncomfortable feelings to a clinician (29% vs 0%; P = .02).

Conclusions: Gender seems to be related to how veterans with cancer perceive their ambulatory cancer care. This may be due to the combination of a high history of sexual abuse and/or harassment among women who represent a minority of the total infusion unit population, the majority of whom receive treatment for a primarily gender-specific breast malignancy. Analysis was limited by the small sample size of women, many with advanced malignancy.



Gender differences in patient satisfaction with medical care have been evaluated in multiple settings; however, studies specific to the unique population of women veterans with cancer are lacking. Women are reported to value privacy, psychosocial support, and communication to a higher degree compared with men. 1 Factors affecting satisfaction include the following: discomfort in sharing treatment rooms with the opposite gender, a desire for privacy with treatment and restroom use, anatomic or illness differences, and a personal history of abuse .2-4 Regrettably, up to 1 in 3 women in the United States are victims of sexual trauma in their lifetimes, and up to 1 in 4 women in the military are victims of military sexual trauma. Incidence in both settings is suspected to be higher due to underreporting .5,6

Chemotherapy treatment units are often uniquely designed as an open space, with several patients sharing a treatment area. The design reduces isolation and facilitates quick nurse-patient access during potentially toxic treatments known to have frequent adverse effects. Data suggest that nursing staff prefer open models to facilitate quick patient assessments and interventions as needed; however, patients and families prefer private treatment rooms, especially among women patients or those receiving longer infusions. 7

The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) patient population is male predominant, comprised only of 10% female patients.8 Although the proportion of female patients in the VHA is expected to rise annually to about 16% by 2043, the low percentage of female veterans will persist for the foreseeable future. 8 This low percentage of female veterans is reflected in the Veterans Affairs Portland Health Care System (VAPHCS) cancer patient population and in the use of the chemotherapy infusion unit, which is used for the ambulatory treatment of veterans undergoing cancer therapy.

The VHA has previously explored gender differences in health care, such as with cardiovascular disease, transgender care, and access to mental health. 9-11 However, to the best of our knowledge, no analysis has explored gender differences within the outpatient cancer treatment experience. Patient satisfaction with outpatient cancer care may be magnified in the VHA setting due to the uniquely unequal gender populations, shared treatment space design, and high incidence of sexual abuse among women veterans. Given this, we aimed to identify gender-related preferences in outpatient cancer care in our chemotherapy infusion unit.

In our study, we used the terms male and female to reflect statistical data from the literature or labeled data from the electronic health record (EHR); whereas the terms men and women were used to describe and encompass the cultural implications and context of gender. 12


This study was designated as a quality improvement (QI) project by the VAPHCS research office and Institutional Review Board in accordance with VHA policies.

The VAPHCS outpatient chemotherapy infusion unit is designed with 6 rooms for chemotherapy administration. One room is a large open space with 6 chairs for patients. The other rooms are smaller with glass dividers between the rooms, and 3 chairs inside each for patients. There are 2 private bathrooms, each gender neutral. Direct patient care is provided by physicians, nurse practitioners (NPs), infusion unit nurses, and nurse coordinators. Men represent the majority of hematology and oncology physicians (13 of 20 total: 5 women fellow physicians and 2 women attending physicians), and 2 of 4 NPs. Women represent 10 of 12 infusion unit and cancer coordinator nurses. We used the VHA Computerized Patient Record System (CPRS) EHR, to create a list of veterans treated at the VAPHCS outpatient chemotherapy infusion unit for a 2-year period (January 1, 2018, to December 31, 2020).


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