Hospital deaths and readmission rates are high among the senior population in the United States, for a number of reasons. What if a small difference in a senior’s care — like the gender of their doctor — could have an impact on their recovery?
Read more about how senior patients fare better when treated by female doctors in the U.S.
Senior Patients Have Better Outcomes When Treated by Female Physicians
“Approximately 32,000 fewer patients would die if male physicians could achieve the same outcomes as female physicians every year.”
The study Comparison of Hospital Mortality and Readmission Rates for Medicare Patients Treated by Male vs Female Physicians, conducted by Dr. Yusuke Tsugawa, found that “elderly hospitalized patients treated by female internists have lower mortality and readmissions compared with those cared for by male internists. These findings suggest that the differences in practice patterns between male and female physicians, as suggested in previous studies, may have important clinical implications for patient outcomes.” Researchers, however, have not been able to pinpoint the cause of these results.
Studies have shown that female doctors are more likely than their male colleagues to order preventative tests and provide patients with preventative counselling, there is nothing definitive to explain why, in this particular study, women internists were linked with lower mortality and readmission rates. Not knowing why female internists fared better leads to questions that make broad gender generalizations, like:
- Are women doctors more nurturing than male doctors?
- Are women physicians better listeners than male physicians?
- Do female doctors communicate better than male doctors?
- Do these qualities — often attributed to bedside manner — make a difference in patient outcomes?
The only fact that one can conclude is that making such generalizations is dangerous.
Certainly there are some female doctors who are strong communicators, but there are also male doctors who have equally strong communication skills. There are also physicians from both genders who are poor communicators as well. The same could be said for each point.
Why This Research Matters to Seniors
In this study, 1,583,028 hospitalizations were used to study mortality and 1,540,797 hospitalizations were used to study readmission rates. However, looking at data like this really isn’t that useful for the average person, because the conclusions made don’t say anything about the bedside manner and skillset of your doctor. Ultimately, your doctor is going to be a contributing factor in your individual hospital outcome.
As Dr. John Schumann and Dr. Sarah-Anne Schumann note in their article, “Patients Cared for by Female Doctors Fare Better Than Those Treated By Men,“ the Harvard study actually raises more important questions like:
- Why are female doctors paid less than male doctors?
- Why are one-third of practicing doctors men when medical school enrollment for women is closer to 50%?
- Why are specialties like cardiology (which has a huge impact on the senior population) dominated by men?
So, the answer to the question “are female doctors better at treating senior patients,” is that it depends.
Statistically speaking, this particular study has found that as a cohort, female internists were better. The real answer, however, is that it depends on your doctor, and it’s never a good idea to judge a doctor’s ability (or anyone else’s, for that matter) based on their gender.
Has gender ever played a role when choosing a doctor in your family? What do you think about the impact of female doctors on senior patients? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.