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Women May Fare Better with Female Doctors, Study Suggests

— May 14, 2024

Research reveals women treated by female doctors had a slightly lower mortality rate compared to those treated by male doctors.

A recent study published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine suggests that both men and women may have better health outcomes when treated by female physicians. This adds to a growing body of research highlighting potential differences in how male and female doctors approach patient care.

The study, led by Dr. Yusuke Tsugawa of UCLA, analyzed Medicare data from nearly 800,000 patients hospitalized between 2016 and 2019. They found that female patients treated by female doctors had a slightly lower mortality rate (8.15%) compared to those treated by male doctors (8.38%). While this difference seems small, researchers believe it could translate to saving thousands of lives annually. Interestingly, the study also showed a similar trend for male patients, though to a lesser degree.

Experts suggest several reasons behind these findings. Dr. Lisa Rotenstein, a co-author of the study, highlights potential differences in communication styles. Female doctors may spend more time with patients, fostering a more collaborative approach to care. Additionally, some studies suggest women are more likely to disclose sensitive information to female doctors, leading to more accurate diagnoses.

This research isn’t the first to explore gender disparities in healthcare. Prior studies have shown that women and minorities are more likely to experience misdiagnosis or negative interactions with the healthcare system. Dr. Ronald Wyatt, former chief science and chief medical officer at the Society to Improve Diagnosis in Medicine, a nonprofit research and advocacy group, shared his daughter’s experience of being misdiagnosed in an emergency room, highlighting the potential for unconscious bias.

“There is a tendency for doctors to harbor sexist stereotypes about women, regardless of age, such as the notion that women’s symptoms are more emotional or their pain is less severe or more psychological in origin,” said Wyatt.

Women May Fare Better with Female Doctors, Study Suggests
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The new study underscores the need to understand these disparities and improve healthcare for everyone. Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health, suggests that all doctors can learn from the communication and patient-centric approach often associated with female physicians.

“There’s lots of variation between women and men physicians,” said Jha. Women “tend to be better at communication, listening to patients, speaking openly. Patients report that communication is better. You put these things together, and you can understand why there are small but important differences.”

While some, like Dr. Hardeep Singh, question the study’s focus on individual doctors given the team-based nature of hospital care, they acknowledge the importance of good communication between patients and physicians.

The path forward seems to involve a multi-pronged approach.  Dr. Preeti Malani suggests studying how female doctors achieve better outcomes, particularly regarding patient readmission rates. Additionally, efforts to diversify the medical workforce and address unconscious bias are crucial. As Dr. Wyatt suggests, “de-biasing training” and increasing the number of women in leadership positions can create a more equitable healthcare system.

While more research is needed, the findings suggest that improving communication and patient-centered care can benefit everyone. By understanding and learning from the practices of female doctors, the medical field can work towards improved patient outcomes for all.


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