Does the gender of your physician play any role in the outcome of your illness ?
I know many patients who are not so confident in getting treated by a female physician. They feel women are not up to the mark in solving complex issues in medicine though they are very comfortable to be under the care of a female nurse. Such misconceptions based on gender is prevalent widely and is probably one of the reason why female physicians in USA gets on an average 20000 dollars less than male colleagues in a year.
But what does scientific data say ?
A new study published online in JAMA has some interesting results. As per the study female internists give better results than their male counterparts.
The study concluded:
Elderly hospitalised patients treated by female internists have lower mortality and re admissions compared with those cared for by male internists. These findings suggest that the differences in practice patterns between male and female physicians, as suggested in previous studies, may have important clinical implications for patient outcomes.
The group studied Medicare fee-for-service beneficiaries 65 years or older hospitalized with a medical condition and treated by general internists and examined the association between physician sex and 30-day mortality and readmission rates, adjusted for patient and physician characteristics and hospital fixed effects (effectively comparing female and male physicians within the same hospital). They examined only physicians focusing on hospital care (hospitalists), among whom patients are plausibly quasi-randomized to physicians based on the physician’s specific work schedules. They also investigated whether differences in patient outcomes varied by specific condition or by underlying severity of illness.
The difference was not very big but the number of patients included in the study was huge so as to make it significant.
A total of 1 583 028 hospitalizations were used for analyses of 30-day mortality and 1 540 797 were used for analyses of readmission. Patients treated by female physicians had lower 30-day mortality (adjusted mortality, 11.07% vs 11.49%; adjusted risk difference, –0.43%; 95% CI, –0.57% to –0.28%; P < .001; number needed to treat to prevent 1 death, 233) and lower 30-day readmissions (adjusted readmissions, 15.02% vs 15.57%; adjusted risk difference, –0.55%; 95% CI, –0.71% to –0.39%; P < .001; number needed to treat to prevent 1 readmission, 182) than patients cared for by male physicians, after accounting for potential confounders. Differences persisted across 8 common medical conditions and across patients’ severity of illness.
The authors state that previous studies had shown female physicians may be more likely to adhere to clinical guidelines, provide preventive care more often, use more patient-centered communication, perform as well or better on standardized examinations, and provide more psychosocial counseling to their patients than do their male peers. They rightly claim that this was the first big study to measure gender differences in treatment outcome.
The authors underline the importance of their finding like this :
Given that there are more than 10 million Medicare hospitalizations due to medical conditions in the United States annually and assuming that the association between sex and mortality is causal, we estimate that approximately 32 000 fewer patients would die if male physicians could achieve the same outcomes as female physicians every year.The effect would be even larger if the associations between physician sex and patient outcomes also hold for non-Medicare populations.
Now if you see someone doubting the ability of females in handling complex medical problems, throw this paper at them.