Hospital Patients Less Likely to Die Under the Care Of a Female Doctor

(HealthDay News) — The gender of your doctor may play a part in your prognosis: New research shows that hospitalized patients are less likely to die if they’re treated by a female physician.

About 10.15 percent of men and 8.2 percent of women died while under the care of a female doctor, versus 10.23 percent and 8.4 percent when treated by a male doctor, according to results published April 22 in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

This is a troubling discrepancy, given that patient outcomes shouldn’t differ if men and women practice medicine in the same way, said senior study author Dr. Yusuke Tsugawa. He’s 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 UCLA in Los Angeles.

“What our findings indicate is that female and male physicians practice medicine differently, and these differences have a meaningful impact on patients’ health outcomes,” Tsugawa said in an UCLA news release.

For the study, researchers analyzed Medicare claims data from 2016 to 2019 for about 458,100 female and nearly 319,800 male patients. Of those, roughly 31 percent were treated by female doctors.

Not only were patients less likely to die with a female doctor, but they also were less likely to land back in the hospital within a month of discharge, researchers found.

They had several theories why male doctors might not be as effective as female doctors in treating women.

Male doctors might underestimate the severity of a female patient’s illness, researchers said. Prior studies have found that male doctors tend to misjudge women’s pain levels, heart and GI symptoms, and stroke risk.

It also might be that women communicate better and are more comfortable with female doctors, making it likelier they disclose important information leading to better diagnosis and treatment.

More research is needed into how and why male physicians practice medicine differently, as well as the impact this difference has on patient care, Tsugawa said.

“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,” Tsugawa said.

Tsugawa added that these results show gender gaps in physician pay must be eliminated.

“It is important to note that female physicians provide high-quality care, and therefore, having more female physicians benefits patients from a societal point-of-view,” Tsugawa said.

A 2021 analysis published in the journal Health Affairs found that female physicians earn an estimated $2 million less than male doctors during a 40-year medical career.

Related: Affirmative Action: Implications for Healthcare Workforce, Diversity and Health Equity

How many Black female doctors are there?

Black American women are significantly underrepresented in the medical field. Data from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) shows only around 5 percent of active physicians identify as Black or African American. The AAMC also reports around 2 percent of active physicians identify as Black women. There isn’t readily available data on the exact number of Americans with a Black female doctor.

This disparity has historical roots. The Flexner Report of 1910, which aimed to standardize medical education, led to the closure of many Black medical schools, hindering opportunities for Black students. Social and economic factors also play a role. Access to quality pre-med education and financial aid can be limited for Black students, impacting their ability to pursue a medical degree.

Despite these challenges, Black women are making strides. The number of Black female doctors is slowly increasing, driven by initiatives focused on increasing diversity in medical schools. By introducing young Black girls to the medical field through mentorship programs and summer camps focused on health care careers, we can potentially increase the number of Black women who want to become doctors.

More information

Harvard Health has more about physician gender.

SOURCE: UCLA, news release, April 22, 2024

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