Study: Female doctors are ~5% better

Female doctors seem on average better than their male counterparts at treating patients in the hospital and keeping them healthy long-term, according to findings published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine.

The study, conducted by a team of researchers at Harvard, examined a random sample of Medicare patients hospitalized between January 2011 and December 2014 treated by general internists. Overall, the researchers scrutinized more than 1.5 million hospitalizations, controlling for differences in hospitals and patient cases.

Their conclusion: Patients who saw a female doctor were less likely to die within 30 days of leaving the hospital. They were also less likely to get readmitted within a one-month span of their initial discharge.

“Women physicians are more likely to do evidence-based medicine, and follow clinical guidelines,” noted Ashish Jha, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health and one of the study’s co-authors. 

“They are more likely to communicate in a way patients report is more effective.”


How big is the difference?

New research estimates that if all physicians were female, 32,000 fewer Americans would die every year. …

The researchers tried to account for every variable; but ultimately all that was left was the finding that women are superior to men at treating these (65-and-older) patients in the hospital. The association held true even for patients who were randomly assigned to a physician when they arrived. People treated by a female had a 4 percent lower relative risk of dying and 5 percent lower relative risk of being admitted to the hospital again in the following month.



Yusuke Tsugawa, a doctor and professor of public health at Harvard and lead author on the study, says, The gender of the physician appears to be particularly significant for the sickest patients. The researchers analyzed over 1.5 million Medicare patient records with a wide range of health conditions, from 2011 to 2014. They specifically looked at patients who could not choose their doctors, or were admitted. The study also controlled for variables like the time of admittance, ages of the physicians and type of medical school attended. Overall health care was deemed good, as less than 12% of the patients died early, and less than 16% had to be readmitted within 30 days of being discharged. The difference in results was small – women doctors were 4-5% less likely to have patients die, but this translates to thousands of lives, around 32,000.


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