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Patients May Live Longer If Doctors Are Female Rather Than Male

Last updated Dec. 22, 2016

Approved by: Krish Tangella MD, MBA, FCAP

Currently, female doctors account for about one-third of the US physician workforce despite being comprised of half of the US medical school graduated.

A new study, published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine, investigated whether there are different patient outcomes between those treated by male and female physicians. They found that elderly hospitalized patients got better treatment when they were treated by female doctors. In addition, patients cared by female doctors were less likely to die or return to the hospital 30 days after the initial discharge.

The Harvard researchers analyzed results from more than 1.5 million hospitalizations and more than 1.5 million readmissions by Medicare patients treated by 58,344 physicians between 2011 and 2014. Their results suggested that patients treated by women had both a lesser risk of premature death (10.82% to men's 11.49% overall) and hospital readmissions within 30 days (15.01% to men's 15.57%).

“We estimate that approximately 32,000 fewer patients would die if male physicians could achieve the same outcomes as female physicians every year. The effect would be even larger if the associations between physician sex and patient outcomes also hold for non-Medicare populations,” the study authors wrote.

The study noted previous experiments that have found differences in the practice patterns between male and female physicians. Female physicians are found to be more likely to do the following than their male peers:

  • Follow clinical guidelines
  • Give preventive care more often
  • Use more communication focusing on the patient
  • Provide more mental counseling for their patients
  • Perform as well or better on standardized examinations

Currently, female doctors account for about one-third of the US physician workforce despite being comprised of half of the US medical school graduated.

An earlier study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, revealed that female academic physicians at public medical schools had lower average salaries than their male peers. Female physicians had a lower average salary of $51,315 than male physicians ($206,641 for women vs. $257,957 for men). Female doctors were also less likely to be full professors than men.

Other studies suggest potential contributing factors to the pay and practice gap between male and female physicians despite evidence suggesting that female physicians may provide higher-quality care including the following:

  • Childrearing or raising a child
  • Higher rates of part-time employment
  • Greater tradeoffs between home and work responsibilities
  • Prioritization of relationships between colleagues

However, Harvard University doctoral student Dan Ly and his colleagues offer a study to contest the claims earlier this year. Published in The BMJ, the lead author along with his colleagues show that white male doctors earned an adjusted median income of $253,042 compared to $188,230 for black male doctors. Female doctors earned less than both male groups with $163,234 for white female doctors and $152,784 for black female doctors. "These income differences remained after adjustment for physician specialty, hours worked, practice characteristics, insurance mix, and geography,” written in their study.

Dr. A. Charlotta Weaver, lead author of a study in the Journal of Hospital Medicine investigating the gender gap differences said in 2015, “In addition to implicit bias and differences in negotiations and social networks, women’s tendency to prioritize substantial pay less than men may account for some of the gender pay inequities that exist in our society. However, substantial pay is different from equal pay. I bet most women still want fair pay.”

References and Information Sources used for the Article:

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: Dec. 22, 2016
Last updated: Dec. 22, 2016