Published: Tue, December 20, 2016
Medical | By Dorothy Lyons

Does it matter in death, hospital readmission rates? The JAMA Network Journals

The Atlantic crunched the numbers and reported the discrepancy in care means 32,000 fewer Medicare patients alone would die every year if they had women doctors - or, as the outlet wrote, "male physicians were as adept as females".

Researchers saw better outcomes for mortality and readmissions with female physicians across a range of common conditions treated in the hospital including bloodstream infections, pneumonia, congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, urinary tract infections, kidney failure, heart rhythm disorders and gastrointestinal bleeding.

"The data out there says that women physicians tend to be a little bit better at sticking to the evidence and doing the things that we know work better", Jha told NBC News. These types of adjustments ensure that the study's findings do not simply reflect a situation where male physicians are seeing sicker patients, for instance. Perhaps male physicians' patients tend to be somehow different from female doctors'?

Yet female physicians focus more on the patient, Parks said.

Overall, less than 11.1 percent of patients treated by female internists died within 30 days.

The study, published today by the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, find that hospitalized Medicare patients treated by female physicians had lower mortality rates and lower readmission rates, compared to those seen by male doctors at the same hospital. 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.

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The scientists analysed the records of 1.5 million people who were hospitalised between 2011 and 2014.

"Among the myriad rationalizations for these disparities between the genders in academic medicine, some have suggested that the burden of home responsibilities, leave for childbearing, or part-time schedules might undermine the quality of female physicians' work and explain male physicians' higher salaries", they wrote in an accompanying editorial.

Female physicians now account for approximately one third of doctors in the United States, and about half of all U.S. medical school graduates. We spoke to lead author Yusuke Tsugawa, a research associate from the Department of Health Policy and Management, to find out more.

The study looked only at internists, and no other specialties, Jha pointed out.

Only one other USA study looked at the association between the sex of the doctor and patient mortality (this time, in a small cohort of outpatients), and it found gender didn't seem to make a difference. The average age of the patients was 80.

Along with the seniors' reduced death rate, their odds of a hospital readmission were somewhat lower. "This reduction in mortality is recognized as the result of large national investments in innovation, new treatments, and quality improvement that allow us to treat patients better". The Harvard researchers said women are still less likely to be promoted and are generally paid less, compared to men.

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