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Does Physician Gender Influence Patient Outcomes?

By Thomas Gole, DO, FAAFP05 Apr 2017

female physicianYou’ve probably seen the headlines:

“Female Doctors May be Better than Male Doctors”

“Having a Female Doctor Might Save Your Life”

“New Study Says Female Doctors Save More Lives than Male Doctors.”

The study that spawned the above headlines was conducted by a team of Harvard researchers who sought to answer the question: Does physician gender influence patient outcomes?

It turns out they do. According to researchers, female physicians are estimated to save about 32,000 more lives per year than their male counterparts. 

Differences Between Female and Male Physicians

According to senior study author Ashish Jha, MD, MPH, female physicians may have better outcomes because they:

  • Practice more evidence-based medicine
  • Are more likely to stick to clinical guidelines
  • Communicate more effectively with patients than their male counterparts

Of the study’s findings, Jha cautioned: “I think people have to look at this more in terms of what it teaches us about how to provide high-quality care as opposed to turning it into a battle of the sexes.”

How to Use the Findings to Improve Outcomes

We can look at some of the findings — female physicians using more evidence-based medicine, and communicating more effectively — as translatable skills anyone can use and improve, regardless of gender.

Things to Consider

Hospitals & Health Networks points out that the study focused on physicians who are general internists with significant inpatient responsibilities. “Had the study been done on outcome comparisons for orthopedists, emergency room clinicians and others, or the clinical populations increased to include conditions like cancer, heart failure and others prevalent among Medicare enrollees, the results might not be replicable,” the publication noted.

What can hospital leaders do with the study’s information? Hospitals & Health Networks recommends leaders educate medical staff leaders and management about best practices for optimal physician performance — including communication — and establish an intervention program to help physicians improve performance in any problem areas.

Additionally, Jha notes that physicians and leaders should try to identify why female physicians achieve better outcomes and figure out how to translate it so all patients receive better outcomes regardless of the physician’s gender.

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