A cross-sectional study has found that elderly patients treated by female physicians faced lower mortality and reduced rates of readmission, compared to those seen by male doctors. The research – which was published in the journal, JAMA Internal Medicine – suggests that differences in practice styles between the sexes could be linked to patient outcomes.
The researchers analyzed health data from a random sample of Medicare patients 65 years or older, who were admitted to the hospital between January of 2011 and December of 2014. In total, over 1.5 million patients were analyzed for 30-day mortality and studied for readmission.
Patients treated by female doctors had a slightly lower 30-day mortality (11.07 percent compared to 11.49 percent for male doctors). In addition, those patients who were seen by a female doctor were less likely to be readmitted within 30 days of their initial hospitalization (15.02 percent compared to 15.57 percent for male physicians). These results were adjusted to take into account potential cofounding factors.
“Women physicians are more likely to do evidence-based medicine, and follow clinical guidelines,” Ashish Jha, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health and one of the study’s co-authors told MedCity News. “They are more likely to communicate in a way patients report is more effective.”
While previous research had noted differences in clinical practice patterns between male and female physicians, little was known about whether these differences translated into changes in patient outcomes. These new findings challenge the gender bias in the US healthcare system which results in female doctors being paid less and getting promoted less frequently.
“Understanding characteristics that are somehow associated with higher quality of care, and lower cost, is important in this era,” said lead author Dr. Yusuke Tsugawa, a physician and research associate at Harvard’s school of public health. “The people who seem to provide somewhat better care are the ones who are getting paid less. I think that makes very little sense.”
While the current study looked at over 1.5 million patients, its scope was admittedly limited. For one, only geriatric patients who were admitted to the hospital on an inpatient basis were considered.
Tsugawa and his coworkers are now looking to study whether surgeons of different genders are linked to changes in patient outcomes. The researchers are also interested in the level of care patients receive when visiting their regular doctor, and whether that holds any correlation with that practitioner’s gender.
“It’s pretty speculative right now to say what women are doing better than men,” said Dr. Anna Parks, an internal medicine resident at the University of California-San Francisco, and the principal author on an op-ed piece accompanying the research. “We need to gather more data on this, so instead of going off of stereotypes, we have hard evidence.”