Health Care Utilization

Sex and Gender-based Analysis of this topic


Health care utilization is a broad term that encompasses hospital stays, emergency department visits, and contact with general practitioners and/or specialist physicians, as well as other health services, including those outside of the formal health care system, such as psychologists, chiropractors, and physiotherapists [1].

Sex Issues

In general, women utilize health care services more frequently than men and are more likely to have a family doctor (89%) compared to men (82%). See the Percentage of Population with Regular Physician indicator for more information. A 2007 Statistics Canada study published in Health Reports based on data from the Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS), found that women are almost twice as likely to see a specialist compared to men [2-4]. However, women are about half as likely (2%) to contact emergency services as men (4%) [3]. The differences in health care utilization patterns may be associated with female-specific health needs, such as contraception and pregnancy, as well as higher rates of morbidity among women compared to men [5-7].

Gender Issues

Gender differences in attitudes towards health and the reporting of symptoms and illnesses may also lead to health care utilization differences between men and women [5-10]. Further, many women act as the primary care-seeker for family members, such as dependent children and elderly family members, increasing their contact with health care professionals [11]. Referral patterns by physicians may contribute to differential patterns of health care utilization rates between men and women. For example, hospitalized men are more likely to be referred for invasive cardiac surgeries than women [12-14].


Health care utilization varies by socioeconomic status (SES). Women of high SES (high income, high levels of education) are more likely utilize health care services, in particular,  specialist services. Although high SES Canadians are more likely to access health care services, Canadians of low SES are more likely to have higher hospitalizations and longer lengths of stay once they are in the hospital [15].

Health care utilization among Aboriginal women is highly dependent on geographic location. For example, Aboriginal women living in the territories have lower utilization rates for regular doctors and eye specialists compared to women living in other regions [16]. 


Women are the primary users of the health care system, which makes health care services utilization an important issue for women’s health. Current Canadian data on health care utilization does not include the full spectrum of health care services, specifically those outside of the formal health care system, such as massage therapist and naturopathic doctors. This makes it difficult to determine the specific levels of health care utilization. There is also a lack of data regarding prevalence of and barriers to health care utilization among low SES, lesbian, bisexual, and Aboriginal women. This data is necessary to understand and improve health care utilization among these subgroups.

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