Montana residents who find themselves receiving non-surgical medical care in a hospital may wish to breathe a sigh of relief if a woman is assigned to be their primary care physician. Researchers from Harvard University studied 1.5 million such cases involving Medicare patients aged 65 or older, and they discovered that patients who were treated by men died more often and were more likely to be readmitted within a month of their release. The study was published online in the medical journal JAMA Internal Medicine on Dec. 19.
The Harvard team filtered their findings to account for variables including the patients' ages, incomes and genders as well as the training and experience of the physicians treating them. The researchers also checked the data to make sure that the male doctors involved were not assigned a disproportionate number of seriously ill patients to treat. The results of the study indicate that the lives about 32,000 Medicare patients could be spared each year if all non-surgical hospital treatment was provided by female doctors.
That figure is approximately the number of lives lost in car accidents each year in the U.S., but the researchers were not able to say what it was that allowed female doctors to perform so much better. Prior studies in this area have revealed that male doctors are often quite businesslike with their patients and spend less time speaking with them than woman doctors would. Female physicians also tend to follow hospital guidelines more closely and are less likely to deviate from accepted medical standards.
Hospital patients pay for and expect top-quality care, and doctors or medical facilities could face medical malpractice litigation when mistakes are made and outcomes are poor. Doctors may find themselves in civil courtrooms when the treatment they provided failed to meet agreed-upon standards of care, and hospitals could be sued when the safety of patients was jeopardized by inadequate staffing, lax oversight or insufficient training.