Hospital patients are less likely to die if their doctor is a woman

Research done at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health has discovered significant differences in mortality rates when patients are treated by male versus female physicians.

A study published today in JAMA Internal Medicine has found that elderly hospital patients are both less likely to die and less likely to be readmitted within 30 days when treated by female physicians. Among Medicare patients alone, 32,000 lives could be saved every year if male physicians achieved the same results as their female colleagues, the researchers estimated. We spoke to lead author Yusuke Tsugawa, a research associate from the Department of Health Policy and Management, to find out more.

ResearchGate: Could you briefly explain the findings of your study and their significance?

Yusuke Tsugawa: We analyzed data from more than one million Medicare beneficiaries aged 65 years or older who were treated by general internists between 2011-2014, and found that patients treated by female physicians have lower mortality (11.07% versus 11.49%) and readmission rates (15.02% versus 15.57%) compared to patients cared for by male physicians in the US. The gender of the physician appears to be particularly significant for the sickest patients.

RG: Why do you think patients that were treated by female physicians showed lower mortality rates?

Tsugawa: Although we could not identify the exact mechanism, previous studies have shown that female doctors are more likely to adhere to clinical guidelines and much more likely to use more patient-centered communications. We think that these differences in practice patterns may explain better patient outcomes for female physicians.

RG: What inspired you to study this?

Tsugawa: Studies suggest that female physicians may provide higher quality of care than male physicians; however, female physicians are paid less and less likely to get promoted than male physicians. Therefore, understanding whether differences in practice patterns between male and female physicians have a meaningful impact on patient outcomes is critically important.

RG: Did these results surprise you?

Tsugawa: Yes, we were expecting no difference in patient outcomes between male and female physicians.

RG:  What has the reaction to their results been like? Have there been gender differences in the reaction?  

Tsugawa: Overall, the initial reactions we have received from both male and female colleagues have been positive and generally accepting of the results.

RG: What are the next steps in this research?

Tsugawa: We need a better understanding of the physician characteristics and practice patterns that are associated with higher quality of care at lower costs.

Featured image courtesy of Andrew Malone