Sex and Gender: The Key to Better Patient-Oriented Research

By Dr. Paula Rochon, Chair – OSSU Working Group on Sex and Gender

We all know that men and women are different—especially when it comes to their health. Add to their distinct biological and physiological traits, the social roles and behaviours ascribed to both males and females from an early age, and you have a multitude of sex and gender (SG) variables that can influence the health and treatment of men and women, boys and girls.

Factoring these variables into all stages of the health research process can lead to better research, more robust and useful results, and more effective policies, prevention and treatment programs for all individuals, regardless of their sex and gender orientation.

So where can health researchers turn for information and advice about these critical variables, and how to integrate SG differences into their research when appropriate? The Women’s Xchange is one of 12 Ontario research centres collaborating with OSSU to provide specialized expertise and support for investigators engaged in patient-oriented research.

At Women’s Xchange, we help investigators integrate sex and gender considerations into their research projects. The process begins with an initial consultation to determine whether or not sex and gender are, in fact, relevant to the research topic at hand. If so, we apply a sex and gender lens to the primary research question(s) and consider how best to capture SG differences throughout the research process.

We take a look at the literature as well as the research team’s existing data to identify the issues that need to be considered and addressed in the planned study to account for SG differences, and provide the team with a report that includes our findings and recommendations.

Next comes a review of the proposed data collection plan to ensure that the methods and tools used allow for SG differences. We also explain how to analyze the data collected to ensure that any SG variables are captured accurately, reflected and brought to the fore in study results.

The final step in the consultative process is to help researchers tailor the dissemination of their findings to the populations and stakeholders who are affected and/or interested in them.

We also have an extensive collection of SG resources that investigators can access through the Women’s Xchange website.

Integrating SG variables into health research really is the key to better research: doing so creates new knowledge, enables us to tailor clinical interventions to the people who need them and, ultimately, leads to better outcomes for everyone.