Media releases

September 5, 2014

Forget man flu... it's women who report ill health more

Medibank data reveals women are 7.8% more likely to have a hospital admission than men.

Although women have a higher life expectancy than men (i), Medibank data has revealed that women were 7.8% more likely to have a hospital admission than men and had 11.8% more hospital bed days per member than men in 2013.

This data is supported by independent research, which reveals that women report more episodes of ill health, consult medical and health professionals more often, and take more medication than men do(ii). Crucially, and perhaps as a result of their increased life expectancy, women experience a higher burden of chronic disease and tend to live more years with a disability than men (iii).

The Medibank data showed the most common service for both men and women in 2013 was a digestive endoscopy. The second most common service area for women was gynaecology. The third most common was psychiatry. Mental disorders represent the leading cause of disability and the highest burden of nonfatal illness for women in Australia (iv). However, women are more likely than men to seek support for mental health problems (41% compared with 28%)(v).

Dr Melissa Lehmann, Medibank National Specialist Services Manager, says, “Women’s mental health needs may vary at different times of their lives. For example, adolescent and young women may be more prone to developing a negative body image, which is in turn linked to a range of psychological disorders such as anorexia, bulimia or depression. Pregnancy and the postnatal period are also a time of mental vulnerability when women may need extra care and support. Independent research shows that women in mid-life have a higher prevalence of mental illness than women in any other age groups.” (vi)

Data for metro, regional and rural areas supported the theory that women frequent hospital more often than men. For each locality, women had a higher number of hospital admissions and bed days. This was particularly true of both major cities and remote areas, where women were around 20% more likely to require hospital attention than men.

People living in rural and remote areas tend to have a lower health status than their metropolitan counterparts. Typically, they have less access to health services as may need to travel further to seek medical attention. They can often experience higher rates of ill health and mortality than people living in larger cities (vii). Women living in rural areas in particular often experience poorer health and have a lower life expectancy than those in metro areas. In addition, levels of alcohol consumption and rates of obesity and chronic disease are higher amongst women in rural regions (viii).

Dr Lehmann concludes, “Although women live longer than men, they may not be doing so in the best of
health, particularly those living in rural areas. However – and importantly - they are more likely than men to seek help and assistance for their health issues, especially in relation to mental health services.”


About the data:
This information draws on independent reports from the AIHW and other sources. It is also based on Medibank data collated from members who were admitted to a private hospital in 2013. The data has been age-adjusted to take into account the fact that women account for a higher proportion of the elderly population than men, to ensure a valid
comparison. Information on specific procedures and services does not include data from Medibank members who presented at public hospitals.

i Australia’s Health 2014, AIHW 2014
ii Australian social trends, March 2011. Health services: use and patient experience. Cat. no. 4102.0. ABS: Canberra.
iii Obesity Trends in Older Australians. Bennett, S, Magnus, P, Gibson, D, (2004). AIHW: Canberra.
iv Women’s Health 2014, Australian Medical Association
v Australian Social Trends - 4102.0, ABS - March 2009
vi Women’s Health 2014, Australian Medical Association
vii Australia’s Health 2014, AIHW
viii Rural, remote and regional differences in women’s health: Findings from the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health. Dobson, A, Byles, J, Dolja-Gore, X, Fitzgerald, D, Hockey, R, Loxton, D, McLaughlin, D, Pachana, N, Powers, J, Rich, J, Sibbritt, D, Tooth, L, (2011). Report prepared for the Australian Government Department of Health & Ageing.

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