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Male or female physician: Does it matter in death, hospital readmission rates?

The JAMA Network Journals

Do hospitalized Medicare beneficiaries treated by female internists have lower rates of 30-day mortality and hospital readmission than those patients treated by men? A new study published online by JAMA Internal Medicine suggests that they do.

Previous research suggests men and women may practice medicine differently, with female physicians more likely to adhere to clinical guidelines and provide preventive care more often, among other things. However, some have suggested that factors such as career interruptions for childbearing and high-rates of part-time employment, may justify higher salaries for male physicians, despite research suggesting female physicians may provide better care.

Empirical evidence is needed so Yusuke Tsugawa, M.D., M.P.H., PhD., of the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, and coauthors examined 30-day mortality and readmission rates for hospitalized Medicare beneficiaries treated by male or female physicians.

The study analyzed more than 1.5 million patient hospitalizations for 30-day mortality rates and more than 1.5 million for hospital readmission rates from 2011 through 2014. During the study period, 58,344 internists treated at least one hospitalized Medicare beneficiary and, among those physicians, 18,751 were women (32.1 percent). Female physicians tended to be younger, were more likely to have had osteopathic training and treated fewer patients compared with their male counterparts.

Patients treated by female physicians had lower 30-day mortality rates (11.07 percent vs. 11.49 percent) and lower 30-day hospital readmission rates (15.02 percent vs. 15.57percent), according to the report.

The study cannot identify why female physicians appear to have better patient outcomes than male physicians.

"These findings suggest that the differences in practice patterns between male and female physicians, as suggested in previous studies, may have important clinical implications for patient outcomes. Understanding exactly why these differences in care quality and practice patterns exist may provide valuable insights into improving quality of care for all patients, irrespective of who provides their care," the article concludes.

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(JAMA Intern Med. Published online December 19, 2016. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2016.7875; available pre-embargo at the For The Media website.)

Editor's Note: The article contains conflict of interest and funding/support disclosures. Please see the article for additional information, including other authors, author contributions and affiliations, financial disclosures, funding and support, etc.

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