“The difference in mortality rates surprised us. The gender of the physician appears to be particularly significant for the sickest patients,” said lead author Yusuke Tsugawa, research associate at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Massachusetts.
For the study , the team analysed data from more than one million Medicare beneficiaries aged 65 years or older and hospitalised with a medical condition.
The findings showed that the patients, if treated by a female physician, had a four per cent lower relative risk of dying prematurely and a five per cent lower relative risk of being readmitted to a hospital within 30 days. The association was seen across a wide variety of clinical conditions and variations in severity of illness.
If male physicians could achieve the same outcomes as their female colleagues, there would be 32,000 fewer deaths each year -a number comparable to the annual number of motor vehicle accident deaths nationally, the researchers estimated.
Researchers acknowledged that female doctors may be more likely to adhere to clinical guidelines, provide preventive care more often, use more patient-centered communication, perform standardized examinations, and provide more psychosocial counseling to their patients than do their male peers.
Given these characteristics, some might have assumed the very outcome that the study demonstrated, that female physicians may have healthier outcomes for patients than male physicians. “Our findings suggest that the differences matter and are important to patient health. We need to understand why female physicians have lower mortality so that all patients can have the best possible outcomes, irrespective of the gender of their physician,” added Ashish Jha, professor of Health Policy and director of the Harvard Global Health Institute.