Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Do Women Make Better Physicians Than Men?

A new study published in JAMA Internal Medicine raises the very real possibility that in some undefined way, women may be better physicians than men. The authors of the study examined the records of more than a million and a half Medicare patients 65 and older admitted to a hospital, using 30-day mortality and readmission rates as their measured endpoints. They found that the 30-day death rate for patients treated by women physicians was lower than for patients treated by men physicians (11.07% vs. 11.49%). Patient readmission rates, too, were lower for women physicians. The differences were statistically significant and independent of medical condition or severity of illness.

To control for how patients were assigned to doctors, the authors focused on patients whose admissions were non-elective at hospitals and where the assignment of physician depended only on the physician's work schedule, and not on choice. Finally, to eliminate differences in physician specialty as a factor, the study focused only on physicians who were general internists.

The difference between 11.07% vs. 11.49% deaths would translate to four fewer deaths for every thousand patients treated by women physicians. Given that more than 10 million Medicare patients are admitted to hospitals every year, tens of thousands of lives might be saved if we could learn exactly how women physicians are different. One theory is that women physicians are more likely to stick to evidence-based protocols and medical practice guidelines, but that would need to be tested.

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