Being treated by a female physician linked to lower risk of death

By Staff 8 Min Read

  • Research published this week suggests that men and women have better outcomes when they are treated by a female physician.
  • The study adds to a growing body of research that patients consistently do better when they are under the care of a female physician.
  • Experts say male physicians should consider the findings of the study and reflect on how they might improve their own practice.

People treated by female physicians have lower rates of mortality and readmission than those treated by male physicians.

That’s according to research published today in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

In their study, researchers reported that there was a clinically significant difference in outcomes for people depending on the gender of their treating physician.

“What our findings indicate is that female and male physicians practice medicine differently, and these differences have a meaningful impact on patients’ health outcomes,” Dr. Yusuke Tsugawa, a senior author of the study and an associate professor-in-residence of medicine in the division of General Internal Medicine and Health Services Research at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California Los Angeles, said in a press statement.

“Further research on the underlying mechanisms linking physician gender with patient outcomes, and why the benefit of receiving the treatment from female physicians is larger for female patients, has the potential to improve patient outcomes across the board,” he added.

Tsugawa and his colleagues examined data from Medicare claims made between 2016 to 2019. The data included more than 458,100 female patients and more than 318,800 male patients. Roughly 31% of both the male and female patient groups were treated by a female doctor.

The researchers reported that the mortality rate for female patients when they were treated by a female doctor was 8.15% compared with 8.38% when treated by a male physician. The researchers regard this as a clinically significant difference.

Among males, the mortality rate was 10.15% when treated by females compared with 10.23% for males.

The researchers say there could be a number of potential reasons for the difference in outcomes between female and male physicians.

“We know that there are differences in care delivery patterns by male versus female physicians across fields of medicine. Female physicians spend more time with patients and spend more time engaging in shared medical decision making and partnership discussions than male counterparts,” Dr. Lisa Rotenstein, a co-author of the study and an assistant professor and medical director at the University of California San Francisco, told Medical News Today.

“Evidence from the outpatient setting demonstrates that female physicians spend more time on the electronic health record than male counterparts and deliver higher quality care,” Rotenstein noted. “In the surgical realm, female physicians spend longer on a surgical procedure and have lower rates of postoperative readmissions. We need to be asking ourselves how to provide the training and incentives so that all doctors can emulate the care provided by female physicians.”

In 2022, the most recent data available, females accounted for 37% of physicians practicing in the United States.

The specialities with the highest percentage of female physicians were pediatrics (65%) and hospice and palliative medicine (62%)

Sports medicine and orthopedic surgery had the lowest percentage of female physicians (7% and 6%, respectively).

The new study is the latest in a growing body of research that suggests patient outcomes are better when people are treated by female physicians.

Christopher Wallis, PhD, an assistant professor in the Division of Urology at the University of Toronto, has researched postoperative outcomes based on the sex of both surgeon and patient.

He says the findings published this week aren’t surprising.

“Across many fields of medicine, numerous studies have demonstrated improved outcomes (whether mortality, readmissions, or others) among patients treated by women physicians. These data recapitulate those findings,” Wallis, who wasn’t involved in the study, told Medical News Today.

“Clearly, there will always be variation between physicians. What we are seeing here is a systematic difference in which patients treated by female physicians… fare better than those treated by male physicians,” he added. “It is not surprising to me to see this for a number of reasons. First, from data going back decades now, we know that women and men practice medicine differently with particular differences in communication styles and guideline adherence. It’s not surprising to me to see these differences translate to patients’ outcomes. Second, both more widely in society and certainly in medicine, women are held to arguably a higher standard than men. This is an exaggerated phenomenon in surgery and may explain some of the differences we’ve seen there.”

With female physicians making up little over a third of all practicing physicians in the United States, the experts who spoke with Medical News Today say they hope male physicians reflect on their own practice and consider areas to improve.

“I would love for male physicians to look at these data seriously and interrogate their own practices. There is often a tendency to discount data like these because they are uncomfortable or may feel threatening. However, that kind of response will not help patients,” Dr. Arghavan Salles, a clinical associate professor of medicine at Stanford University in California who was not involved in the study, told Medical News Today.

“If, instead, male physicians can approach these data with curiosity as to why patients may have worse outcomes in their hands, they may begin to identify how to improve the care they provide,” she said. “For example, a study of surgeons performing cholecystectomies found patients had better outcomes when their surgeon was female, rather than male. One of the findings in that study was that surgery took just a few minutes longer when performed by female surgeons. Was that additional time spent double checking, making sure everything was fine before the end of the procedure? Was that time spent performing more careful dissection to try to prevent complications? That study did not answer those questions, but they are things to consider.”

Share This Article
Leave a comment