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Patients May Live Longer If Their Doctor is a Woman

Don't want to die before your time? Get a female doctor

Around one third of doctors in the United States are women who now make up half of all medical school graduates.

Harvard's study found that, when treated by female internists, Medicare patients had a 4 percent lower relative risk of dying prematurely and 5 percent lower risk of being readmitted to a hospital within 30 days.

In a national study, researchers found that older hospital patients treated by female internists had a slightly lower death rate than those treated by men.

The 30-day readmission rate was 15.02% vs. 15.57% for those treated by female and male physicians, respectively (adjusted risk difference, -0.55%; 95% CI, -0.71% to -0.39%; P 0.001; number needed to treat to prevent 1 readmission, 182). And the findings do not appear to be explained by higher-risk patients choosing male physicians or vice versa, Jha said, because they held up when the researchers looked only at hospital-based doctors who take cases as they come. But other research on the quality of care patients get has consistently found that gender matters, and female doctors often have an edge on their male peers. Researchers examined outcome data between 2011 and 2014 on the eight most common conditions in seniors treated by general internists, including sepsis, pneumonia, congestive heart failure, and acute renal failure.

"These findings suggest that the differences in practice patterns between male and female physicians, as suggested in previous studies, may have important clinical implications for patient outcomes", they wrote online in JAMA Internal Medicine.

The findings, published online December 19 in JAMA Internal Medicine, do not prove that women are better doctors.

Only around a third - 32.1 per cent - of patients were treated by a female doctor and female doctors tended to be younger than their male counterparts. For example, women are more likely to adhere to clinical guidelines and provide more patient-centered communication. That sample included 1,583,028 patients (39.3% men, average age 80.2) for the mortality comparison; another 1,540,797 (39.1% men, average age 80.1) were included in the readmission analysis. And patients of female doctors still did a little better.

"I think it's those practice differences that probably explain the results we have", Jha added.

If you are sick, elderly and in a hospital, you are more likely to survive when your primary doctor during that hospitalization is a woman, a new study shows. "So face-to-face time with patients, where they have undivided doctor attention, has dropped".

The study couldn't determine what behaviors account for the improved patient outcomes.

They adjusted the data for patient and physician characteristics and hospital fixed effects, effectively comparing female and male physicians within the same hospital.

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.

However, this is the first U.S. study to look at whether the differences in the way men and women practice affect clinical outcomes.