How the Gender Health Care Gap Might Kill You

Yes, even in Canada.

photo credit: shutterstock

When it comes to health care, we’re still living in a man’s world. It’s something that’s been on the minds of Women’s College Hospital (WCH), which has been campaigning for over a year now to close the gender health gap. We asked Dr. Danielle Martin, vice-president of medical affairs and health system solutions at WCH, about some of the inequalities.

What is the research gap?

One aspect is that, until the 1990s, there were very few women included in medical research trials. Women continue to be under-represented, although it’s better than it used to be.

The impact of unequal health care

Often, we don’t know. As a doctor, if I prescribe a blood pressure or cholesterol pill to a woman, can I feel confident that it’s likely to have the same impact of reducing her long-term risk of a heart attack as it would if she were a man? The answer is often no.

What about when it comes to diagnoses?

For most conditions, women will experience symptoms differently than men. We know, for example, that women are much less likely to experience what we think of as the classic symptoms of a heart attack. For this reason, women are often slower to seek out and receive care.

Are there other factors at play?

It’s also about the social, economic and familial factors and workplace expectations. If you’re trying to design a mental health service that serves women and you know that the rates of postpartum depression are very high in women and that those women have babies, organizing services that don’t involve child care will make it nearly impossible for those women to get the support they need.