The term “bikini medicine” is used disparagingly to refer to medicine when the treatment of women focuses specifically on issues with the breasts and genitals, rather than looking at the body as a whole. This slang term references a well-known two-piece women's garment which famously covers only these areas of the body, leaving the rest exposed. Women's health advocates are often outspoken in their concerns about bikini medicine, fearing that neglect of the rest of the body can be dangerous for women.
Of course, there are legitimate health issues which do impact these parts of the body, which is why women go to specialists such as gynecologists to address these particular health issues. However, women historically have been frustrated when they visit a general practitioner and get the bikini medicine treatment. As some feminists put it, women are “more than their uteri,” and bikini medicine often does a grave disservice to women seeking medical attention.
When doctors focus on reproductive health issues, they may miss other conditions, which can range from heart murmurs to inflammatory bowel disease. For example, if a woman goes to the doctor seeking attention for a condition which appears to be hormone-related, it would be a mistake to focus only on reproductive hormones, because she could be having a glandular problem at any number of locations in her body. By neglecting more thorough examinations and testing, the doctor might take longer to identify the problem and a potential solution.
Bikini medicine can also work in reverse, as when a woman goes to a doctor in a non-gynecological specialty and he or she fails to address reproductive health problems which could be influencing her condition. Some women are also reluctant to discuss reproductive health issues with male doctors, or with doctors who are not working in the field of women's medicine, and this can lead to a missed or erroneous diagnosis, due to a failure to treat the body as an interconnected network.
The medical establishment started to recognize the problems with bikini medicine in the late 1990s, and took a variety of steps to address the issue. For example, serious studies on the differences between the genders were used to identify a range of conditions which women might be at greater risk for, and to identify gender-based treatment and prevention approaches by using data from these studies. These studies are intended to recognize that differences between the sexes are far from superficial, and to codify these differences to make medical treatment for women more effective.