Canadian women wait longer than men for access to specialists, says a report published by Statistics Canada.
The report titled Waiting time for medical specialists consultations in Canada, 2007, says an estimated 3 million patients aged 15 or older consulted a specialist about a new condition in the previous year. Almost 60% of these patients were women. More than half the patients were aged 45 or older.
The top three conditions about which specialists were consulted were gynecological conditions (12%), heart/stroke (9%), and cancer (7%); this varied by sex. About 21% of women consulted a specialist about a new gynecological condition. Men were more likely than women to have consulted a specialist because of a new heart condition or stroke.
About 46% of the patients waited less than a month for their initial consultation with the specialist. An additional 40% waited one to three months, and 14% waited more than three months.
Women tended to wait longer than men. Even after accounting for variables like income and referrals, female patients were significantly less likely than male patients to see a specialist in less than a month.
Men with asthma or other breathing conditions and women with gynecological conditions had lower odds of consulting a specialist within a month.
As well, male patients reporting high blood pressure had significantly low odds of seeing a specialist within a month compared with those without high blood pressure.
The researchers also found that among men, the odds of seeing a specialist within a month were twice as high for those who had immigrated more than 10 years earlier than for those born in Canada.
Male immigrants may not have access to primary care in the same way ,perhaps because of language barriers, or their disease may be more advanced when they saw a specialist, Carrière speculated.
"We did this study because we wanted to look at the kinds of factors — patient factors, health-care provider factors — that were associated with longer versus shorter wait times to access these kinds of specialists," report author Gisèle Carrière of Statistics Canada's health analysis division in Vancouver said in an interview.
Previous studies have found gender bias in access to primary care for heart disease, but the gender gap noticed in this report may also reflect differences in the severity of the condition requiring a specialist consultation, the pair said. For example, men may wait longer to get help for a medical condition and are expedited through the system because they are in more urgent need of care, Carrière said.
But there was limited information about the patients' health status before the visit and no measure of the severity of the new condition was available, so these factors couldn't be taken into account fully, the analysts said.
In terms of provincial differences, the proportion waiting less than a month was higher in Newfoundland and Labrador, 37 per cent, and Manitoba, 37 per cent, compared to the total for the rest of the country, excluding the territories, at 45.6 per cent. At 51 per cent, people in Quebec waited less than the national average.