The controversial study made by Harvard researchers states that according to their findings, female doctor’s patients live longer than those treated by men. The research has been received with skepticism, but it also has been supported by many.
The study has attracted an enormous amount of attention since the findings took into account 1.5 million patients registered on Medicare. The sample is large enough, thus significant, questioning male doctors performance.
The study was published December 19 in the Journal of the American Medical Association and was carried by specialists from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts.
The results showed that patients, who were aged 65 or older, had a longer lifespan and a reduced probability of returning to the hospital in the next month when treated by a female physician compared to patients that were treated by male doctors.
Determining that female doctors provided better care
There are many questions about the study and how it assessed both gender performance with patients. Harvard Business Review interviewed Dr. Yusuke Tsugawa, led author of the controversial study, to clarify some aspect regarding the method of his research.
The results of the investigation state that patients treated by a woman had a 4 percent lower relative risk of dying and a 5 percent lower relative risk of being admitted to the hospital again in the following month. The percentage seems small, but when HBR asked Dr. Tsugawa about the significance, he said the results were as significant as the improvement in the mortality rate in the United States.
Mortality rates have improved about 5 percent in the last ten years thanks to better practices, clinical guidelines, new drugs and new interventions. Data showing women doctors improving the chances of their patients to live longer and visit the hospital less frequently are equally significant.
Previous research shows that female doctors are more likely to follow guidelines
When it comes to the method, people think that the study did not consider that some female doctors see fewer patients or different kind of patients than male physicians, but Tsugawa clarified that his study did account for those variables. The controversial research considered medical school training, type of patients and how many of them were treated by female and male doctors during a period, thus, the findings are accurate.
Tsugawa added that his study does not say that women make patients live longer. He said it is not gender but the differential practice patterns that are associated with sex of physicians which is causing patients to be better or worse. Dr. Tsugawa explained that female physicians tend to listen to their patients and spend more time with patients compared to male doctors. This fact suggests women provide better care based on how they are raised.
Tsugawa pointed that past studies show female doctors are more likely to follow clinical guidelines, checklists, and evidence-based practice. He explained that the scope was beyond his study but added that his team did look other research that analyzed gender gap or gender differences.
Tsugawa and colleagues found that, for example, women are more likely to wear a helmet when riding a bicycle than men, or that women prefer lower-risk investment compared to men, who are likely to invest in higher-risk situations.
“Assuming that female doctors are more risk-averse, it’s understandable that they will go back to their guidelines, they will abide by evidence-based medicine, they will consult more, they want to spend more time with their patients—all these things can happen because they want to make sure they’re doing the right thing,” Tsugawa told HBR. “Whereas male doctors, if they’re bigger risk takers, maybe they’re overconfident about their practice patterns and maybe that will make them provide care that’s slightly different from clinical guidelines.”
Still, it does not mean that some patients do not benefit from higher-risk strategies. The study could not find what exactly makes female doctor’s patients healthier than those treated by men.
Led author Tsugawa was also asked if the fact that the patients were 65 and older could affect the findings, but the doctor denied it since he expects to find similar results in a study involving younger populations.
He explains that physicians provide similar cares to patients regarding age, saying that a person aged 70 and a person aged 50 receive the same treatment for heart attack. Tsugawa did say that the magnitude of the treatment effect might be smaller since younger populations are not general sicker compared to older patients.
Tsugawa stated in the interview that the United States would have 32 thousand fewer deaths if male doctors cares were similar to those of female physicians. He added that the effect size would be even larger if the study had evaluated younger populations.
Despite women’s performance, as physicians, they earn less than their male colleagues. Coauthor Dr. Jena Anupam found that female doctors in medical schools make between 8 percent less a year than male peers, which means about $20 thousand less a year.
Different studies have found that female doctors are paid less and get promoted slower than male physicians.
Source: Harvard Business Review