A surprising factor may play a role in patient outcomes, affecting readmissions, recovery and other aspects of a patient’s hospital stay: the physician’s gender. According to the results of a new study from the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Internal Medicine, elderly patients may fare differently depending on whether their doctors are men or women.
Ultimately, the study showed that female doctors pulled out ahead.
To reach this conclusion, researchers looked at Medicare patients aged 65 or older who were hospitalized over a three-year period between 2011 and 2014.
As written in an article from Boston’s WBUR, this amounted to over 1.5 million hospitalizations where patients were treated by more than 58,000 doctors.
They focused on the eight most common treated conditions by general internists: congestive heart failure, pneumonia, sepsis, urinary tract infection, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, gastrointestinal bleeding, acute renal failure and arrhythmia.
Researchers chose to focus on the efforts of hospitalists, defined as general internists who billed at least 90% of their E/M claims in an inpatient setting.
When looking at 30-day mortality and readmission rates, they found that patients were less likely to return to the hospital and more likely to survive if they were being cared for by a female doctor instead of a male physician.
The difference was relatively small, but still statistically significant. In fact, when extrapolating the results for the general population, researchers calculated that if male doctors had the same patient outcomes as female physicians, an estimated 32,000 lives could be saved each year.
Per the WBUR article, that’s equal to the number of people who die from motor vehicle accidents.
Difference in treatment style
Although the JAMA Internal Medicine study doesn’t offer an explanation as to why differences in outcomes exist between doctors of different genders, it cites other research showing that female physicians are more likely to follow clinical guidelines and use evidence-based practices when caring for patients.
Additional research says female doctors are better at communicating with patients, which keeps patients more engaged in their care and recovery.
On the other hand, male doctors may be more likely to take risks – judging by how males behave in other professions. So that may explain why fewer men strictly practice evidence-based medicine.
While facilities can’t pick and choose providers based on their gender, there are lessons to be learned from this research. Most importantly, it’s key to reinforce the importance of following evidence-based guidelines when caring for hospital patients – regardless of whether a provider is male or female.
Adhering to proven standards for treatment is the best way to keep patients from suffering harm that can jeopardize their recovery. And promoting these practices for all your physicians can only help your facility improve patient outcomes overall.