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Study: Female Doctors Stronger at Caring for the Elderly

Study Conducted by a Team of Researchers at Harvard on the Treatment of Patients

Older patients who are hospitalized have a better chance for survival and are less likely to return to the hospital after discharge if they receive care from female internists.

That’s because female doctors may on average be better than their male counterparts at treating patients in the hospital and keeping them healthy long-term, according to findings published in the JAMA Internal Medicine.

The study, conducted by a team of researchers at Harvard, examined a random sample of Medicare patients hospitalized between January 2011 and December 2014 treated by general internists. Overall, the researchers scrutinized more than 1.5 million hospitalizations, controlling for differences in hospitals and patient cases.

Their conclusion: patients who saw a female doctor were less likely to die within 30 days of leaving the hospital (11.07% vs. 11.49%), according to the research. They were also less likely to get readmitted within one-month span of their initial discharge (15.02% vs. 15.57%) across 8 medical conditions studied that ranged from arrhythmia to sepsis.

 

“Women physicians are more likely to do evidence-based medicine, and follow clinical guidelines,” noted Ashish Jha, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health and one of the study’s co-authors. “They are more likely to communicate in a way patients report is more effective.”

 

While those tendencies, it seems, result in healthier patients the researchers admit that they are “unable to identify exactly why female physicians have better outcomes than male physicians.”

The study’s authors estimate that approximately 32,000 fewer patients would die if male physicians could achieve the same outcomes as female physicians every year.

 

Although the study indicates women physicians may provide better care, they aren’t compensated for it. An editorial about the study urges doctors to remedy the gender-disparities in care and the pay gap that favors male physicians over women. It argues that the paper’s findings suggest hospitals serious about improving patient health should invest in improving female salaries and other benefits, so that they’re comparable with those of male doctors.

 

“These findings that female internists provide higher quality care for hospitalized patients yet are promoted, supported, and paid less than male peers in the academic setting should push us to create systems that promote equity in start-up packages, career advancement, and remuneration for all physicians,” write Dr. Anna L. Parks and Dr. Rita F. Redberg.

 

Researchers, however, said in the study it’s important to understand why these differences in care quality and practice patterns occur. “It may provide valuable insights into improving quality of care for all patients, irrespective of who provides their care,” they wrote.

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