Sunnybrook and Women's College Health Sciences Centre

Sunnybrook and Women's College Health Sciences Centre

November 17, 2005 10:00 ET

Cardiovascular program strikes a cord with women

Attention: Assignment Editor, Health/Medical Editor, Lifestyle Editor, Media Editor, News Editor TORONTO/ONTARIO--(CCNMatthews - Nov. 17, 2005) - Women are significantly less likely than men to access and continue attending cardiac rehabilitation programs, suggesting that changes are needed to accommodate women's specific health needs, a report shows.

"There are numerous cardiovascular rehabilitation programs, however none of them provide special care for women based on the principles of women's health," says Jennifer Price, contributing researcher of the report and Clinical Nurse Specialist and Nurse Practitioner in Cardiology at Sunnybrook and Women's College Health Sciences Centre. "Most cardiac rehabilitation programs have been developed by men for middle-aged male cardiac patients and do not consider the different needs of women. Often, they are designed for men who are returning to their jobs whereas many women requiring cardiac rehabilitation are mothers, grandmothers, and/or the primary caregivers in their home," she says.

Studies indicate approximately 15 percent of women attend cardiac rehabilitation programs and half of them generally drop out before completion. Typically, women do not participate in cardiac rehabilitation programs because their physicians do not recommend it. Financial issues, depression, and denial of disease also contribute to this predicament. Significant gender differences are apparent, as decreased participation has been noted among women who are married, and among patients who are older, obese, and live with severe disease or other co-morbidities (all descriptors of typical female cardiac rehabilitation patients).

In response to the underutilization of cardiac rehabilitation programs among women, the Women's Cardiovascular Health Initiative (WCHI) opened its doors in 1996, and offered a unique comprehensive cardiac rehabilitation program designed for women only. Intended to assist with the integration of heart-healthy lifestyle changes into their daily routine, women are provided with relevant information about health services that they can access in both the public and private sector. The health care team at the WCHI also encourages women to identify and strengthen personal resources to address individual health problems. The WCHI is presented as a case study in the latest issue of the Canadian Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing (CJCN).

Consideration of gender-specific variables when designing and implementing cardiac rehabilitation programs at the WCHI has led to significant improvements in women's exercise capacity and quality of life. Though the WCHI sees fewer clients per year than average cardiac rehabilitation programs, outcome measures and compliance rates are noteworthy. From 1996 to 2004, 315 clients have entered the WCHI's cardiac rehabilitation stream of the program. The compliance rate to completion for this group was 85 percent, a figure much higher than previously reported.

"Creating a comfortable environment for women and providing them with healthcare to suit their different needs was achieved by putting our principles into action," says Price. "We strive to provide high quality care, are accessible through flexible schedules, take a collaborative planning approach with various health care providers, and our continued efforts toward the development of innovate creative approaches to current women's health and research issues are reflected in our program." The WCHI has embraced these principles in order to provide a unique service that can accommodate women's needs. There is great benefit to women involved in a women-only cardiac rehabilitation program, as disparities in women's health and access to cardiac rehabilitation can be more easily identified and eliminated.

It is the success of programs like the WCHI that will serve to encourage other health care providers to take the lead in forging the gap between women's health and cardiac rehabilitation. Sunnybrook & Women's recognizes women's special needs, and influences change at multiple levels within health care including the organizational, community and public policy levels. This in turn, may facilitate greater access to health care services and result in positive health outcomes for women. Currently, the WCHI is working to address the challenge of effectively reaching and treating women who are visible minorities, who do not speak English fluently, who are unemployed and who have not completed high school education.
/For further information: IN: HEALTH, MEDIA

Contact Information

  • Suzanne Diab
    Primary Phone: 416-480-4040