You are less likely to die if you are treated by a female doctor, Harvard study suggests

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You are less likely to die if you are treated by a female doctor, Harvard study suggests

We cannot completely say whether it’s because they’re more by-the-book or simply have that innate maternal instinct. But studies continue to suggest that, in comparison to males, female doctors are more likely to keep you alive.

Of course, there are also excellent male doctors with amazing bedside manners and who follow clinical guidelines. What factors, then, seem to suggest that female doctors are the ones who are raising the proverbial health bar.

What the Research Reveals

Let’s go back to 1984 when sociologist Dr. Candace West published a study that examined the differences between male and female doctor-patient interactions.

After videotaping and analyzing dozens of doctor-patient encounters, West found that male doctors interrupted their patients about twice as much as their patients cut them off. Unfortunately, this may have been a sign of male doctors exercising their authority and power over their patients. In contrast, female doctors pretty much broke even on the amount that either of them interrupted each other.[1]

These differences confirm meta-analyses that suggest female doctors listen and communicate better, and spend more time with their patients.[2]

It is important, however, to consider that our society has come a long way in the last few decades in rightly acknowledging and accepting women in the workplace (i.e., via pay, position, and other rights). And there’s much room still for improvement.

Researchers published another study in the European Journal of Heart Failure exploring the influence of gender on guideline-recommended treatments of chronic heart failure (CHF). They found that female doctors who adhered to clinical guidelines when administering drugs – this is something they do more often than male doctors – CHF patients had more complete treatments and positive outcomes.

The study went on to show that male doctors preferred male patients. In fact, female patients “[were] likely to receive the worst medical treatment from a male physician, whereas male patients were treated best by a female physician.”[3]

Female Doctors Produce More Positive Patient Outcomes

female medical doctor

This statement isn’t the final word on the matter, but the studies we’ve looked at so far are telling. And this February 2017 Harvard study lends further evidence. It didn’t exclusively examine how doctors communicated with their patients or how closely they followed the clinical guidelines. Instead, researchers wanted to find out whether patients’ mortality and hospital readmission rates differ between male or female physicians.

It turns out they do.

From January 1, 2011 to December 31, 2014, researchers analyzed over 1.5 million hospitalization records of American Medicare patients aged sixty-five and up. For both mortality and readmission rates, they observed a thirty-day rule. That is, 1) Did patients die within thirty days of hospital admission and 2) did hospitals have to readmit patients within thirty days of discharge.

Harvard’s Findings

Researchers found that when female physicians treated a patient, he or she had an 11.07 percent chance of dying compared to the males’ 11.49 percent. In comparison to male physicians (15.57 percent), patients were 15.02 percent less likely to be re-admitted to the hospital under the care of a female physician.[4] So out goes the argument that male physicians get all the sicker patients, according to one Forbes contributor.

With such minor mortality and readmission rate differences (0.43 and 0.55 percent, respectively), you may think that they’re insignificant. However, the study considered another factor, too. They found that female physicians maintained the better rates even when they adjusted to different medical conditions and illness severities.[4]

The study concluded that the difference in male or female medical practices affirms existing research. And although the study didn’t delve so much into the “why” of these differences, researchers acknowledged that they “may have important clinical implications for patient outcomes.”[4]

Don’t Hate Your Male Doctor

Now we aren’t suggesting that you drop your male doctor (if you have one) and shop around elsewhere. You may have a fantastic relationship with your male doctor who is both personable and professional.

But in theory, if we could replicate whatever it is those female doctors are doing so effectively, think of how the quality of medical care in America could improve.

[1] http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1525/si.1984.7.1.87/abstract

[2] http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/195191

[3] http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1093/eurjhf/hfn041/full

[4] http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/article-abstract/2593255

Image: https://pixabay.com/en/doctor-medical-medicine-health-563429/

The Hearty Soul

The Hearty Soul

The Hearty Soul is one of the world’s largest health information hubs. We connect regular people with cutting-edge research and the insights of medical professionals.
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