Female Doctors May See Better Results than Male Peers, Study Says

Elderly patients treated by women may have lower mortality and hospital readmission rates.


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Woman power is alive and well, according to a new study. Research from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health says that elderly patients treated by female physicians tend to have better health outcomes than patients treated by male doctors.

The research suggests that patients treated by female doctors, specifically general internists, may be 4 percent less likely to die within 30 days of hospital admission, and 5 percent less likely to return within 30 days of discharge. Those margins may seem fairly minimal, but the researchers claim that if male doctors saw the same success rates as their female colleagues, there could be up to 32,000 fewer deaths each and every year, just among Medicare patients.

The paper, published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine, is believed to be the first national study looking at gender-based differences in medical results. (Prior research has, however, looked at gender-based pay gaps in medicine. That breakdown does not favor female doctors.) The Harvard team examined the medical records of a million Medicare beneficiaries, all 65 and older and all treated by general internists between 2011 and 2014.

The researchers’ findings appear consistent across conditions and when applied to hospitalists—doctors to whom hospital patients are blindly assigned—and they seem especially relevant for the sickest patients, says lead author Yusuke Tsugawa in a statement.

As for why the disparity happens, the researchers aren’t totally sure—but it likely has something to do with observed differences in how men and women practice medicine, namely that female doctors have been shown to follow clinical guidelines more closely and rely more heavily on patient-focused communication.

“There was ample evidence that male and female physicians practice medicine differently. Our findings suggest that those differences matter and are important to patient health,” senior author Ashish Jha said in the statement. “We need to understand why female physicians have lower mortality so that all patients can have the best possible outcomes, irrespective of the gender of their physician.”

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