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Why Picking a Female Doctor Could Save Your Life

It turns out the patients treated by women had a 4 percent lower risk of dying prematurely and a 5 percent lower risk of being readmitted to a hospital within 30 days compared with the patients cared for by male doctors. Thirty-day hospital readmission rates varied similarly, at 15.02% for female physicians, compared to 15.57% for male physicians.

"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".

Citing previous literature, the authors pointed out: "There is evidence in the primary care setting suggesting that, compared with male physicians, female physicians are more likely to practice evidence-based medicine, perform as well or better on standardized examinations, and provide more patient-centered care". And patients of female doctors still did a little better.

The researchers estimated that if male physicians could achieve the same outcomes as their female colleagues, there would be 32,000 fewer deaths each year among Medicare patients alone-a number comparable to the annual number of motor vehicle accident deaths nationally. "Female Physicians", is in JAMA Internal Medicine was was published December 19, online.

The findings in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Internal Medicine were based on a sample of more than one million people whose records were analyzed from 2011 to 2014.

"Among the myriad rationalizations for these disparities between the genders in academic medicine, some have suggested that the burden of home responsibilities, leave for childbearing, or part-time schedules might undermine the quality of female physicians' work and explain male physicians' higher salaries", they wrote in an accompanying editorial.

Lead author Tsugawa is at the Department of Health Policy and Management, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Cambridge, MA.

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The study looked only at internists, and no other specialties, Jha pointed out.

After adjusting for factors such as each patient's age, gender and income and the doctors' ages and training, they found that 11.07% of patients treated by female internists died within a month, while 11.49% of those treated by male internists did.

The findings are also particularly striking given previous studies that found gaps in pay and promotions for female physicians. "I feel very confident that findings are real and that it probably says something important about the way men and women are practicing".

More effective communication has been linked with higher rates of patient satisfaction, lower readmissions, and better adherence to therapeutic recommendations. A more recent analysis found patients speak for an average of only 12 seconds before being interrupted by resident physicians.

The study couldn't determine what behaviors account for the improved patient outcomes.

But she and Jha both pointed to an issue that has long existed in medicine, as well as other professions: On average, women are paid less than men are, and promoted less often.

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