Women doctors may be better for patient's health: Harvard study

Wednesday, 11 October 2017, 01:39:48 PM. A large study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association has found a link between the health and survival of older patients admitted to hospital and the gender of their doctor.

Could your doctor's gender affect your health and chance of survival?

That could be the case if you're over 65 and being treated at a US hospital, according to a study published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health looked at data from more than 1.5 million hospital visits between 2011 and 2014 where patients were admitted for urgent illnesses such as pneumonia, heart failure, intestinal bleeding, urinary infections and lung disease.

It found that those taken care of by female physicians were more likely to leave the hospital alive than those treated by male doctors.

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The difference is small — 11.1 per cent of patients treated by women died within the first month of being admitted to hospital versus 11.5 per cent of those treated by men.

"Which doesn't sound like big numbers," said Calgary urgent care physician Dr. Raj Bhardwaj.

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Dr. Raj Bhardwaj is an urgent care doctor in Calgary. (@RajBhardwajMD/Twitter)

"But if you take the three million or so hospital admissions in Canada every year and you can drop deaths by about half a per cent overall — that would be about 12,000 deaths we could avoid," he told the Calgary Eyeopener.

In addition to better survival chances, the study also found patients treated by women were slightly less likely to be readmitted to the hospital within the first month of being discharged.

Women practice medicine differently 

On average, female internists were in charge of fewer patients and some of them were not as sick as those of male doctors. And while the researchers did consider those factors, they still found patients of female doctors still did a little better.

So, why the disparity?

While the researchers are not totally sure, Bhardwaj said it could be connected to the way women doctors practice medicine.

"They tend to follow guidelines more rather than sort of going rogue and doing their own thing," he said.

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Dr. Raj Bhardwaj says the findings of the JAMA report don't prove that women doctors are better than men. (Shutterstock)

"They actually talk to their patients and include them on the health decision-making team, I think, a lot more than men tend to. And evidence shows that they spend more time with each patient and see fewer patients overall on average than male doctors do."

But Bhardwaj said the findings don't prove women doctors are better than men.

All it shows, he said, is there's an association between having a female doctor and having a slightly lower risk of dying or being readmitted to hospital within 30 days of discharge.

"The biggest limitation of this study is it can't show which way the cause-and-effect arrow is pointing, if it's there at all," he said.

"It's tough without doing more detailed research and actually, literally, following doctors around because this speaks to the average female doctor and the average male doctor. And I know some male doctors who are very good at talking to their patients and I know some female doctors who aren't."

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener and the Associated Press 

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