Elderly Patient Survival Rates Higher with Female Doctors: Study

Older patients treated by female doctors have lower death rates following hospitalization and are less likely to be readmitted following discharge than individuals treated by male doctors, according to the findings of new research. 

In a study published in the medical journal JAMA Internal Medicine on December 19, researchers found that elderly patients treated by female doctors had a 4% decreased risk of dying after being treated in the hospital.

Researchers analyzed data from 1.5 million elderly Medicare patients in the U.S. treated from 2011 to 2014. The data included information for 620,000 men and 960,000 women over the age of 65 years who were hospitalized and treated by both male and female doctors, including 20,000 female doctors and 60,000 male doctors.

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The study indicated patients treated by female doctors not only had a lower death rate after being hospitalized, but they were also less likely to be re-hospitalized within 30 days after being discharged. The re-hospitalization rate for female doctors was five percent lower than for male doctors.

Researchers say the study’s findings suggest female doctors may treat elderly patients differently and this has a significant impact on patient outcomes, especially the sickest individuals.

The study accounted for the reason the patient was hospitalized and the severity of the patient’s condition. Researchers also compared the results to “hospitalists,” healthcare professionals who work in hospitals and have patients assigned to them based on workflow. This allowed researchers to ensure female doctors weren’t just getting healthier patients than male doctors.

Using that comparison, the results did not change; female doctors still had lower mortality rates and readmission rates.

Researchers said there is definitely something female doctors are doing differently to treat their patients, but exactly what is unclear.

However, prior research has indicated male and female doctors practice medicine differently. Female doctors are more likely to follow clinical practice guidelines and offer preventive care more often. They are also more likely to offer “patient-centered communication.”

Other research has shown the importance of simply following clinical practice guidelines should not be overlooked.

Dr. Ashish K. Jha, lead author of the latest study, determined that if all doctors could offer the same level of care as some of the high performing female doctors from this study, it would result in 32,000 fewer deaths per year among Medicare patients.

“There was ample evidence that male and female physicians practice medicine differently,” Jha said in a Harvard press release. “Our findings suggest that those differences matter and are important to patient health.”

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