I’ve read medical research studies that surprised me. I’ve read medical news that inspired me to learn more. And, sure, there have been plenty of studies that went way over my head. But it’s rare that I’ve read a study that made me feel defensive. Until now.
Researchers publishing JAMA Internal Medicine reported that older adults admitted to the hospital fare better if under the care of a female physician rather than a male physician. More specifically, the patients in this study were less likely to end up back in the hospital, or die, in the 30 days after discharge if cared for by female physicians than similar patients cared for by male physicians.
How “good” was the study?
The study was large. Nearly 1.6 million hospital admissions among people covered by Medicare were analyzed for deaths within 30 days. Another 1.6 million admissions were analyzed for readmission within 30 days. When comparing care provided by male to female internists, the results clearly demonstrated small differences that consistently favored the female physicians:
- Deaths within 30 days of admission occurred in 11.07% of patients cared for by female physicians while 11.49% of patients cared for by male physicians died in that timeframe.
- Readmission to the hospital within 30 days of discharge occurred in 15.02% of patients with female physicians but in 15.57% of those cared for by male physicians.
- Even after accounting for several relevant factors, such as severity or type of patients’ illness, or type of medical training, age or experience of the physicians, the findings remained largely the same.
Although these differences may seem small, they could have a large impact on unnecessary suffering, premature death, and costs of care when considered over the millions of hospital admissions that occur each year.
Your reaction, please
When I surveyed the members of my household about these results, the reactions ranged from “Of course, everyone knows women are better at everything,” (my wife’s perspective) to, “There must be some other reason for these findings; the researchers must have missed something.” OK, that last one was from me. Did I mention I was feeling defensive?
But after reading the research report’s results carefully, it’s hard to come up with an alternative explanation for the study’s findings. And there is other research that suggests that female physicians outperform their male counterparts in certain aspects of medical care, such as communication skills.
So, what’s their secret?
And that brings us to this question. If female physicians are getting better results, how do they do it? Just what are the differences in the ways male and female physicians practice that lead to better outcomes for patients of women doctors?
The answer is important. Identifying the differences in how male and female physicians provide care could lead to improved care across the board, regardless of physician gender.
The study’s authors are appropriately cautious in their conclusions because a study of this type cannot determine why the results turned out as they did. But they did offer a few possibilities:
- Female physicians may follow clinical guidelines more often.
- Female physicians may communicate better, with less medical jargon.
- Male physicians may be less “deliberate” in addressing complicated patients’ problems (as suggested by past research).
I would add a couple of other possibilities:
- Perhaps female physicians listen more carefully.
- Female physicians may spend more time with their patients, and this could allow the doctor to get a better sense of the patient’s symptoms and help ensure that her recommendations are understood well by the patient.
There are more questions to answer
Beyond making us think about what female physicians are doing right, this study raises a number of other questions:
- Would the results be the same if other areas of medicine were similarly studied? This study excluded patients cared for by other types of doctors such as surgeons, obstetricians, and psychiatrists.
- Would physician gender matter if the patients were younger? The average age of patients in this Medicare-covered study population was nearly 81.
- How would the results be affected if outpatients were included?
How can we use this information to improve care of patients?
Undoubtedly, future research will try to tease out how female and male doctors practice differently. Then it will be important to figure out why these differences exist and which ones matter most. It’s probable that each gender has something to teach the other. One thing is certain: accepting the possibility that female physicians may outperform male physicians in certain aspects of medical care, and then trying to understand why, is much more constructive than being defensive about it.
Related Information: The Harvard Medical School 6-Week Plan for Healthy Eating
Below are spiritual recipe for health and wellness: Matthew E. McLaren
Whoever would foster love covers over an offense, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends. Proverbs 17:9 NIV
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4:32 NIV
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. Matthew 6:14 NIV
Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. Colossians 3:13 NIV
If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
2 Chronicles 7:14 NIV
Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Luke 6:37 NIV
Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance?
You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. Micah 7:18 NIV
You, Lord, are forgiving and good, abounding in love to all who call to you. Psalm 86:5 NIV
Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses. Acts 13:38-39 NIV
He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.
1 John 2:2 NIV
Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy. Proverbs 28:13 NIV
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace. Ephesians 1:7 NIV
Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity. Joel 2:13 NIV
Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Acts 2:38 NIV
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