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A woman’s touch: Female doctors linked to better patient outcomes


Study finds lower mortality, hospital readmission rates when treating physician is female

row of masked female doctors ©

Image generated using AI

Does a physician’s gender affect patient outcomes? A recently published study suggests that it does.

To test that hypothesis, researchers at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine examined three years of Medicare claims data for about 458,000 female and 320,000 male patients. Approximately 31% of patients of both sexes were treated by female hospitalists. The primary outcomes they measured were 30-day mortality rates from the date a patient was admitted and 30-day readmission rates from the date a patient was discharged.

The 30-day mortality rate for female patients treated by female doctors was 8.15%, compared to 8.38% when the treating physician was male, a difference considered to be clinically significant. For male patients a difference was also apparent but not as large—10.15% when the doctor was female and 10.38% when male.

The patterns were the same for 30-day readmission rates.

“Our findings indicate that female and male physicians practice medicine differently, and these differences have a meaningful impact on patients’ health outcomes,” Yusuke Tsugawa, MD, PhD, associate professor-in-residence in internal medicine at the Geffen School and the study’s lead author, said in an accompanying news release.

The authors suggest several possible reasons behind the differences in outcomes. Among these are that male doctors might underestimate the severity of female patients’ illnesses, leading to delayed or incomplete care.

Another possibility, they say, is that female doctors communicate better with their female patients, making it likelier for the patients to provide information leading to better diagnoses and treatments. Finally, it could be that female patients are more comfortable getting sensitive examinations and engaging in in-depth conversations with female physicians than with males.

Tsugawa said additional research is needed to understand how and why female doctors practice differently than males and how those differences affect outcomes. “A better understanding of this topic could lead to development of interventions that improve patient care,” he said.

He added that “it is important to note that female physicians provide high-quality care, therefore having more female physicians benefits patients from a societal point of view.”

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