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How much does a physician’s gender impact patient outcomes? A recent study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine delves into this topic to determine whether a measurable difference is present and how much it changes the quality of care. The study looks at treatment data for patients with Medicare. This information was gathered from 1,583,028 hospital visits over a three-year period. The 30-day mortality and admission rates provided the basis for comparison between male and female hospitalists. The researchers compared physicians within the same hospital and looked into common illnesses across a range of severities.

Lower Death Rates

Patients receiving care from female physicians had a four percent reduced chance of dying compared to male physicians. More than 30,000 patients in this data set fall into this gap between the physicians.

Fewer Readmissions

Another significant figure from this medical study compared how many seniors went back to the hospital in the 30-day period after their initial visit. The patients seen by a female physician had a five percent reduced readmission rate. This lower rate reduces the cost of care while improving overall outcomes.

Potential Causes

This data was reexamined from several perspectives, but whether patients received a randomly assigned physician or a specific doctor, the results remain the same. Several theories are presented as far as why this outcome occurs, although no conclusions are currently available.

Women physicians have a tendency to adhere more strictly to care guidelines, which can impact the consistency of care with their patients. In addition, they spend more time with the seniors on each visit. Female physicians’ communication style is also attributed to a more patient-focused approach that contributes to greater reassurances.

One physician couple, Dr. Sarah-Anne Henning Schumann and Dr. John Henning Schumann, talked to NPR about their hunches concerning the cause of the gender disparity. Drs. Schumann and Schumann agree that communication plays an important role in the results, with empathy and emotional intelligence leading to better results.

This current study also reinforces several findings from previous studies into the gender-based outcomes of patients. This research indicates that one reason female physicians achieve better results is due to preventive care and tests being used more extensively than their male counterparts. While further research is needed to discover verifiable causes for these results, this study paves the path for more gender-based theories.