No difference in care, cost between male and female physicians

March 14, 2013

Despite earlier research to the contrary, a new observational study reveals no difference in the quality of care provided or the healthcare costs incurred by either male or female physicians.

Contrary to the results set forth by previous studies that female physicians are associated with lower healthcare costs and that their patients visit them less, new research shows that the prior apparent disparities between genders may have been caused by other factors.

Weight, tobacco use, and other patient behavioral factors were not accounted for in earlier studies and could have influenced the outcome of older research more so than gender, according to a new study out of the University of California, Davis (UC Davis) Health System.

In fact, the observational study, published in the March/April issue of The Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine found that the gender of a physician had no bearing on a patient’s healthcare or prescription drug expenses, mortality, or office or emergency department visits.

“Our findings suggest that if the goal is to contain costs and the risk of death, there is no reason to differentially recruit or train physicians of either gender," says lead author Anthony Jerant, MD, professor of family and community medicine at UC Davis. "We should instead focus on factors such as patients’ cigarette smoking and diet, which are known to influence healthcare utilization and mortality."

Some gender specific trends that were revealed include a higher rate of female physicians than male physicians when it comes to caring for young, college-educated female patients who reside in urban areas. Additionally, more female physicians were non-Caucasian than male physicians.

"Female providers are contributing to greater diversity in the healthcare provider workforce, which is an important aim both for social equity and to ensure that patients can choose providers they feel comfortable with," Jerant says. "However, our findings clearly emphasize the importance of looking beyond gender to determine the patient and provider characteristics that can positively influence the process, quality, and costs of care."

The study analyzed responses of more than 20,000 patients who participated in surveys from 2002 to 2008-a portion of whom switched to a physician of a different gender during the study period. It received no external funding. Other study authors include physician-researchers Peter Franks, MD, MPH, Joshua Fenton, MD, MPH, and Klea Bertakis, MD, MPH, all with the UC Davis Department of Family and Community Medicine.

 

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