“Why did an 8-year-old boy accompany a patient to her heart clinic?” wondered Dr. Donna Zfat-Zwas, director of Hadassah’s Linda Joy Pollin Women’s Cardiovascular Wellness Center.

The patient explained that she wasn’t permitted to see a physician without a male relative accompanying her, and her young son was available. This requirement to have an escort contributes to the overall lack of assertiveness on the part of Arab women, Dr. Zfat-Zwas explains. When these women do ask questions, she says, the physicians are often paternalistic and don’t answer them.

In cooperation with the Jerusalem municipality, Dr. Zfat-Zwas and her team developed a two-session course to help women maximize their appointments. During these sessions, the women learn how to prepare for physician appointments in advance— assembling their medical records, for example. They also learn how, when meeting with their physicians, to take control and have their questions answered.

A similar Pollin Center program proved successful with ultra-Orthodox Jewish women, who reported an improved relationship with their physicians.