A new report suggests men might not be more reluctant to see a doctor than women are.

An international study has found that on average, women use primary healthcare services more often than men, but the reasons for this gender divide remain unclear.

It suggests may simply have different trigger points for seeking healthcare.

Women tend to live longer than men after a serious illness, with their greater use of primary healthcare, and therefore greater likelihood of timely diagnosis, often suggested as the explanation for this particular advantage.

To explore this further, researchers looked at the patterns of primary healthcare use among 65,622 Danish men and women aged 60 and above, before and after admission to hospital for serious illness between 1999 and 2011.

Every primary care consultation was recorded for each person in five 6-month periods in the 30 months before and the 30 months after first admission to hospital for one of the four conditions.

The average age at which women were admitted to hospital was significantly older than that of men: 77 vs 75.

Once engaged with primary healthcare, patterns of use did not differ significantly between men and women.

But before hospital admission, while a substantial proportion of women did not access primary healthcare, men were still significantly less likely than women to do so for all four conditions.

After hospital admission, with the exception of stroke, the gap had narrowed considerably as both sexes were more likely to access primary healthcare.

For example, before hospital admission, 25 per cent of all men in their 60s admitted with a heart attack had not used primary healthcare services compared with around 15 per cent of all women of the same age.

But afterwards, only 2 per cent of all men and only 1 per cent of all women who had been admitted for a heart attack did not visit their family doctor.

Absolute gender differences in primary healthcare use were greatest for stroke and heart attack, the symptoms of which often come on suddenly or if already present, might be overlooked, say the researchers.

At the other end of the spectrum, the gender gap in primary healthcare use was generally smallest for COPD, the symptoms of which tend to be present long before admission.

This suggests that men and women may be just as likely to put off seeing a doctor when they do not consider symptoms to require urgent attention or when they ignore them, say the researchers.

Similarly, fear of the implications of a diagnosis of a serious illness may also deter both sexes from seeking medical help.

The study is accessible here.