Hospitalized patients with Medicare are slightly less likely to die or be readmitted within 30 days if they’re treated by a female doctor rather than a male doctor, according to a study published Monday in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.
Looking at more than 1.5 million hospitalizations and more than 1.5 million readmissions, Harvard public health researchers found that female physicians yielded lower 30-day readmission rates and lower 30-day mortality rates than male physicians. For patients of women, mortality rates were 15.02 percent and readmissions rates were 11.07 percent, compared with 15.57 percent mortality and 11.49 percent readmission rates for patients of men.
Readmission rates are important because they can signal a coordination gap between hospital employees and those responsible for the next stage in a patient’s care, according to The Washington Post. In other words, it’s a metric of doctor collaboration and follow-through.
The study didn’t explain why women provided slightly better care to patients than men, but it corroborates previous research that suggests women on the whole provide better care to patients. For example, a paper published in the Journal of Internal Medicine in 2008 found that female physicians scored higher on quality of care and outcome measures while caring for patients with Type 2 diabetes.
And while the results in the new study were modest, they have important real-world implications ― especially when it comes to the pronounced gender-based wage gap that exists in medicine. Currently, female physicians make and average $20,000 less than male counterparts, according to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine in July.
The wage gap “is particularly unconscionable given the performance of women in terms of providing high quality care,” Dr. Ashish Jha, a professor of health policy at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, told STAT.
Another real-world outcome: “We estimate that approximately 32,000 fewer patients would die if male physicians could achieve the same outcomes as female physicians every year,” the study authors wrote.