Female patients have lower mortality rates when treated by female doctors, study suggests

Female patients have lower mortality rates when treated by female doctors, study suggests

Patients treated by female doctors have a lower mortality rate when compared to patients treated by their male counterparts, a new study suggests.

Researchers found this was especially true for female patients and observed a similar pattern for hospital readmission rates.

The team published their findings in the scientific journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

“What our findings indicate is that female and male physicians practice medicine differently, and these differences have a meaningful impact on patients' health outcomes,” Dr Yusuke Tsugawa, an associate professor-in-residence at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), said in a statement.

Researchers looked at data from over 776,000 male and female patients aged 65 years or older and treated between 2016 and 2019.

They analysed patient mortality and readmission 30 days after hospital admission.

When treated by a female doctor, female patients had a mortality rate of 8.15 per cent compared to an 8.38 per cent rate when a male doctor treated them.

While a “large and clinically meaningful” difference was observed for female patients, the authors noted, “for male patients, an important difference between female and male physicians could be ruled out”.

A similar pattern was observed for hospital readmission with women having a 15.51 per cent rate when treated by a female doctor and a 16.01 per cent when the physician was a man.

‘Potential to improve patient outcomes across the board’

The scientists said that additional research is needed to understand the reasons behind such a gap.

“Further research on the underlying mechanisms linking physician gender with patient outcomes, and why the benefit of receiving the treatment from female physicians is larger for female patients, has the potential to improve patient outcomes across the board,” Tsugawa said.

One possibility is that male physicians “may underestimate illness severity among female patients,” an explanation in line with previous studies.

This misinterpretation of symptoms and risks could lead to outcomes worse for female patients than for male ones.

Another hypothesis is that communication is better between female patients and female doctors or that female patients may be more open to receiving sensitive examinations, for example, involving private body parts.

“A better understanding of this topic could lead to the development of interventions that effectively improve patient care,” Tsugawa said.

“It is important to note that female physicians provide high-quality care, and therefore, having more female physicians benefits patients from a societal point-of-view,” he added.

Researchers also intend to see if the results are the same with younger patients as the sample studied focused on people 65 and older.