Patients Fare Better With Women Doctors, Study Says

Patients treated by female physicians fare better than those treated by male doctors when it comes to both mortality and hospital readmission rates, new research has found.

Being treated by a female doctor decreases your chances of dying and being readmitted to the hospital, according to a new study — especially if you’re a woman.

The study, published in Annals of Internal Medicine, demonstrates that all patients benefit more from treatment by women doctors, with female patients experiencing an even greater benefit.

“What our findings indicate is that female and male physicians practice medicine differently, and these differences have a meaningful impact on patients' health outcomes,” said senior study author Yusuke Tsugawa, MD, MPH, PhD, 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 a news release.

Researchers found that female patients’ mortality rate was 8.15% when treated by female physicians and 8.38% when the physician was male, a difference the researchers found to be “large and clinically meaningful.”

For male patients, treatment by a female physician led to a 10.15% mortality rate compared with a 10.23% rate with male doctors — a smaller yet still significant difference. The rates were similar for hospital readmission rates.

The study was conducted based on data from Medicare claims between 2016 and 2019 for 458,108 female patients and 318,819 male patients. Approximately 31% of both were treated by female doctors.

The researchers suggest that multiple factors may contribute to this phenomenon. One explanation is that male physicians may underestimate the severity of female patients’ illnesses. Previous studies have shown that female patients are more likely to be misdiagnosed and brushed off by male doctors. They’ve been shown to miss gastrointestinal symptoms, cardiovascular signs, and stroke risk among their female patients, at times resulting in delayed or worse care.

The researchers say female doctors may also have better communication and interpersonal skills, and female patients may be more comfortable sharing vulnerable information and undergoing sensitive examinations with female physicians.

Further studying into why this gap persists — and why it’s particularly prevalent for women patients — is needed, the researchers say, and may lead to better patient outcomes in the future.

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