How Your Doctor’s Gender Might Affect Your Health Outcome: A Vital Concern

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Patients treated by female physicians are less likely to die or be readmitted to the hospital than those treated by male physicians, according to a recent study by researchers from the United States and Japan. The study, which analyzed a large dataset of hospital admissions, also found that the gap is even wider for female patients, especially those with severe illnesses.

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While the study does not delve deeply into the reasons behind this disparity, its findings align with previous research that has drawn similar conclusions. “Our findings indicate that female and male physicians practice medicine differently, and these differences have a meaningful impact on patients’ health outcomes,” says Yusuke Tsugawa, a health policy scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

The research team looked at data from US Medicare sources detailing 458,108 female and 318,819 male patients hospitalized between 2016 and 2019. All the patients were over the age of 65, and just under one-third of both male and female patients were seen by female physicians.

The data was then compared with 30-day mortality rates (from the date of admission) and 30-day readmission rates (from the date of discharge). In both cases, patients treated by female physicians had better outcomes.

Though the differences weren’t large enough to draw a direct cause-and-effect relationship, they were statistically significant and shouldn’t be there at all. For example, the adjusted mortality rate for female patients treated by female physicians was 8.15 percent, compared to 8.38 percent for those treated by male physicians. This difference, while seemingly small, translates to one less death for every 417 hospitalizations.

“A better understanding of this topic could lead to the development of interventions that effectively improve patient care,” Tsugawa adds. He notes that female physicians often provide high-quality care, suggesting that having more women in the medical field would benefit society.

The study’s authors propose several reasons for these discrepancies. Female doctors might communicate better with female patients, leading to more accurate diagnoses. Additionally, male doctors could be more prone to underestimate the severity of conditions experienced by women. Another possible explanation is that female patients might feel more comfortable with female doctors, reducing embarrassment and encouraging greater honesty about certain conditions.

The researchers call for more studies to understand why these differences exist and to work toward equalizing the quality of care, regardless of the gender of the patient or the physician. Tsugawa concludes, “Further research on the underlying mechanisms linking physician gender with patient outcomes, and why the benefit of receiving treatment from female physicians is larger for female patients, has the potential to improve patient outcomes across the board.”

This study has been published in the Annals of Internal Medicine and offers a compelling case for further exploration of gender disparities in healthcare outcomes. The findings suggest that improving gender diversity among physicians could lead to better patient care and reduced mortality rates.

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