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"We estimate that approximately 32,000 fewer patients would die if male physicians could achieve the same outcomes as female physicians every year." That was the conclusion reached in a recent study by the Harvard School of Public Health.

According to the doctor who led the study, that's because male and female doctors practice medicine somewhat differently. The doctor points out that female physicians "tend to be a little bit better at sticking to the evidence and doing the things that we know work better."

Other studies have shown that female doctors tend to be more patient-focused than their male counterparts. They spend more time with patients and "are more encouraging and reassuring," according to one physician.

The Harvard study looked at data involving 1.5 million elderly patients who were hospitalized for a variety of non-surgical reasons between 2011 and 2015. Those treated by female doctors had a lower mortality rate (11 percent) over a 30-day period than those cared for by male doctors (11.5 percent).

Further, fewer of the patients treated by women had to return to the hospital over that period than those under a man's care (15 percent compared to 15.5 percent).

Some people have contended that female physicians' skills may suffer because they're more likely to take time off to have children and to work only part time when they return. While these results seem to contradict that belief, career interruptions may account at least in part for the pay gap between male and female physicians. According to one study, white female physicians had an average annual salary of $163,000 compared to white male doctors, whose average salary was $250,000.

As the doctor who led the Harvard study noted, if the skills that lead female doctors' patient outcomes to exceed those of male doctors could be taught to all doctors, patients overall would benefit.

Obviously, choosing a female doctor isn't necessarily going to guarantee better treatment, and sometimes you have no choice in which doctor treats you — particularly in an emergency situation. However, it may be important to note if your doctor, whether male or female, displays the traits that are credited for improving patient outcomes.

Source: NBC News, "Female Doctors Outperform Male Doctors, According to Study," Maggie Fox, Dec. 19, 2016

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