Gender makes a difference in health care: Report reveals ways to improve women’s health

Women experience unique health issues like pregnancy and menopause as well as health conditions like cervical, ovarian and breast cancer. Some diseases like HIV and cardiovascular disease are said to present differently in women than in men, and women and men also have unique issues related to aging and depression. Studies show women and men require specific care because of their biological and social differences, and Ontario’s health system needs to reflect this.

Three hundred women across Ontario have shared their personal health stories, and, their testimonials have helped create a call to action to shape a new outlook on how to improve the lives of all women – including low-income, newcomers to Canada, women with disabilities, working mothers, Aboriginal and Francophone women.

Echo:  Improving Women’s Health in Ontario, an agency of the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, in collaboration with its leading researchers and key community partners, listened to these women, and issued a report that addresses the unique health needs of women and the existing challenges around providing excellent care in women’s health.

According to the report – Ontario Women’s Health Framework, there are priority actions that Ontario can act on immediately including analyzing health data by sex to benefit both women and men.

“It’s important that we address the unique needs of women’s health in Ontario by taking actions that support women to live healthy lives and to get effective care when needed,” says Pat Campbell, CEO, Echo:  Improving Women’s Health in Ontario.  “Keeping women healthy, strengthens the overall health of Ontarians.”

Liz Woodburn was one of the women who shared her story with Echo. With a family history of cardiovascular disease, Liz developed a rapid heart rate and chest pains during exercise, and waited 18 months to learn the results of what she feared was a fatal disorder.  “I was extremely frustrated following months of appointments, tests and waiting for results to still not have a definitive diagnosis and therefore definitive treatment,” she says.  Her story is just one in the Framework that illustrates how health may be affected by sex – a gap in the health care system that can be improved by looking at the different health needs of both men and women.

The Ontario Women’s Health Framework is the first of its kind for the province. It builds on the results of the POWER Study (Project for an Ontario Women’s Health Evidence-Based Report), a multi-year research study that looked at differences in health and health care associated with gender, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, and where one lives in Ontario.

“The POWER Study found inequities and identified many opportunities for improvement,” says
Dr. Arlene Bierman, Principal Investigator for the POWER Study. “It underscored the need to routinely address and monitor sex and gender differences as part of ongoing provincial quality improvement efforts – the Women’s Health Framework leverages these findings and provides a road map for improving the health of all Ontario women.”

And like many improvements that are implemented, collaboration is key. The Framework shows that action is required at all levels including health professionals, policy-makers, researchers and community-based practitioners.

Echo and its partners encourage all women and groups to learn more about the Ontario Women’s Health Framework and other educational and research initiatives by visiting

Quick facts on women’s health

Quick facts on women’s health
•    Cardiovascular disease is the most common cause of mortality in women and men; women tend to have a different risk profile than men;
•    Women are more likely to have multiple chronic conditions, and report worse health status, lower employment rates, and more disability and mobility limitations than men as a result of their health issues;
•    Aboriginal women are at high-risk for serious health problems such as diabetes, teenage pregnancies, domestic violence and sexually-transmitted diseases;
•    Aging is a women’s health issue; the fastest growing demographic groups in Ontario are those aged 55 to 64 years, and those over 85 years, of whom the majority are women;
•    Across all age groups, Canadian women are more likely to live in lower-income households than men with poorer health strongly associated with lower income.