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Patients treated by female doctors less likely to die than patients treated by men, new study shows

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Patients of female docs are less likely to be readmitted to the hospital, too

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Elderly patients are less likely to die or be readmitted to the hospital when they’re treated by a female physician than by a male physician, according to new research.

It’s yet another reason why it’s ridiculous for male doctors to out-earn female docs by an average of $20,000 each year. And it helps counter the narrative that women provide lower-quality care because they bear the burden of domestic responsibilities.

Public health researchers at Harvard University waded through three years of records for patients in the US ages 65 and up. They took a random sample of 20 percent of people receiving Medicare who had been hospitalized between January 2011, and December 2014. The researchers discovered that no matter what medical condition landed the patient in the hospital, that patient was more likely to die or be readmitted to the hospital in the following 30 days if they were treated by a male physician — according to results published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine.

For some conditions, like sepsis, pneumonia, acute kidney failure, and irregular heartbeats, the decrease in deaths after treatment by a female physician was statistically significant. For other conditions, like congestive heart failure, urinary tract infections, and gastrointestinal bleeding, the drop in deaths was more of a trend. But for almost all conditions, readmissions decreased significantly for patients treated by a female physician compared to ones treated by a male physician.

While this specific study didn’t look at why patients treated by women did so much better, the authors reference previous studies. These showed that women generally score better on medical standardized tests, they’re more likely to use best-practices when treating patients, and to spend time communicating with their patients.

With an association study like this one, it’s important for the researchers to be comparing apples and apples, not apples and oranges. So, the research team made sure to compare doctors within the same hospitals, and to focus specifically on doctors providing hospital care.

Still, as careful as they were, the researchers couldn’t say for certain that something about medical care by female physicians caused that decrease in deaths — just that the outcome was linked to the physician’s gender. But if they could assume a direct relationship, the authors say, and extrapolate that data to the 10 million Medicare hospitalizations a year in the US, there would be a lot fewer deaths: “We estimate that approximately 32,000 fewer patients would die if male physicians could achieve the same outcomes as female physicians every year.”