Women’s strategies to achieve access to healthcare in Ontario, Canada: a meta-synthesis
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As part of a mixed methods study on women’s access to the healthcare system in Ontario, Canada, we undertook a qualitative meta-synthesis to better understand the contextual conditions under which women access healthcare. An earlier phase of the synthesis demonstrated a series of factors that complicate women’s access to healthcare in Ontario. Here, we consider women’s agency in responding to these factors. We used metastudy methods to synthesise findings from qualitative studies published between January 2002 and December 2010. Studies were identified by searches of numerous databases, including CINAHL, MEDLINE, Scopus, Gender Studies Database and LGBT Life. Inclusion criteria included use of a qualitative research design; published in a peer-reviewed journal during the specified time period; included a sample at least partially recruited in Ontario; included distinct findings for women participants; and in English language. Studies were included in the final sample after appraisals using a qualitative research appraisal tool. We found that women utilised a spectrum of responses to forces limiting access to healthcare: mobilising financial, social and interpersonal resources; living out shortfalls by making do, doing without, and emotional self-management; and avoiding illness and maintaining health. Across the studies, women described their efforts to overcome challenges to accessing healthcare. However, there were evident limits to women’s agency and many of their strategies represented temporary measures rather than viable long-term solutions. While women can be resourceful and resilient in overcoming access disparities, systemic problems still need to be addressed. Women need to be involved in designing and implementing interventions to improve access to healthcare, and to address the root problems of these issues.