Patients of female physicians have lower death rates, study finds

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The mortality rate for hospitalized patients treated by female physicians was 4.8 percent, compared to 5.2 percent for patients cared for by male physicians, according to research published July 16 in JAMA Health Forum.

Researchers conducted a cross-sectional analysis involving 171,625 patients who were hospitalized across seven hospitals in Canada between April 1, 2010, and Oct. 31, 2017. Patients were treated by 172 attending physicians. 

When treated by female physicians, patients had a lower in-hospital mortality rate compared to when treated by males, the findings showed. The difference persisted after researchers adjusted for patient characteristics, but was not statistically different after accounting for other physician characteristics, such as specialty, age and years of experience. 

Differences in processes of care between female and male physicians may contribute to the findings, the study said. For example, researchers found female physicians ordered more imaging tests. 

"Evidence from previous studies suggests that female physicians perceive clinical risks more highly and, perhaps as a result, order more tests and request more referrals than their male counterparts," the researchers said. "In interpreting these findings, we exercise caution to avoid perpetuating gender stereotypes. Female and male physicians may have been socialized to adhere to gender norms and expectations within a healthcare context, but such behavioral differences are modifiable and not fixed."

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