Study: Women Doctors' Patients Less Likely to Die


Female physicians are generally paid less for doing the same work as their male counterparts. A new Harvard study suggest that women are actually better doctors—at least in caring for hospitalized elderly patients.

Elderly patients who are cared for by a female physician when hospitalized are less likely to die or to be readmitted than similar patients whose physicians are men, Harvard researchers have found.

"These findings suggest that the differences in practice patterns between male and females physicians, as suggested in previous studies, may have important clinical implications for patient outcomes," Yusuke Tsugawa, MD, MPH, PhD, and colleagues wrote in JAMA Internal Medicine.

The researchers analyzed a 20% random sample of Medicare fee-for-services patients who were hospitalized with a medical condition and treated by general internists. The study period was January 1, 2011 to December 31, 2014.

They looked at 30-day mortality, readmission rates, then they adjusted to effectively compare female and male physicians with the same hospital.

The data showed that the adjusted mortality rate for patients treated by female internists was 11.07% vs. 11.49% for those treated by their male counterparts.

There was a similar disparity in readmission rates, or 15.02% for patients with female doctors and 15.57% for those with male doctors.

A possible explanation could be that the women doctors were more likely to adhere to clinical guidelines, "provide preventive care more often, use more patient-centered communication, and provide more psychological counseling," the authors said.

Their study was also designed to build a case for better pay for women.

In an accompanying editorial, Anna Parks, MD, and Rita Redberg, MD, MSc, noted that salaries for female academic physicians are about $19,879 lower, or 8.0% less than those of male colleagues.

They also cited studies that showed that women doctors "are more encouraging and reassuring, and have longer visits than male physicians," and that ironically the very behaviors that lead to these better patient outcomes are discouraged by pay-for-performance initiatives that stress increasing the volume of patient encounters in a given day.

The editorial writers said the study findings should be used to "promote equity in start-up packages, career advancement, and remuneration for all physicians."

The article, "Comparison of Hospital Mortality and Readmission Rates for Medicare Patients Treated by Male vs. Female Physicians," is in JAMA Internal Medicine was was published December 19, online.

Lead author, Tsugawa, is at the Department of Health Policy and Management, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Cambridge, MA.

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