Patients of female doctors live longer, research shows

LOS ANGELES — A doctor’s gender matters when it comes to your health. Researchers from UCLA have found that patients receiving treatment from female physicians have lower mortality rates and fewer hospital readmissions compared to those treated by male doctors. Female patients seemed to benefit the most from this “female doctor effect.”

The study, published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, analyzed Medicare claims data from 2016 to 2019 for over 700,000 patients. They found that the mortality rate for female patients was 8.15 percent when receiving care from female physicians, compared to 8.38 percent when the physician was male. While this difference may seem small, it’s considered clinically significant by researchers.

Male patients also fared better under the care of female doctors, though the difference was less pronounced. Their mortality rate was 10.15 percent with female physicians, compared to 10.23 percent with male physicians.

A similar pattern emerged for hospital readmission rates. Patients were less likely to return to the hospital within 30 days of discharge if a female doctor saw them during their initial visit. Researchers propose several possible explanations for their findings.

“What our findings indicate is that female and male physicians practice medicine differently, and these differences have a meaningful impact on patients’ health outcomes,” says study senior author Dr. Yusuke Tsugawa, associate professor-in-residence of medicine in the division of general internal medicine and health services research at the David Geffen School of  Medicine at UCLA, in a media release.

Doctor examining older man, listening to his heart with stethoscope
Researchers from UCLA have found that patients receiving treatment from female physicians have lower mortality rates and fewer hospital readmissions compared to those treated by male doctors. (© bernardbodo –

One potential factor is that male doctors might underestimate the severity of illness in their female patients. Previous research has shown that male physicians tend to downplay women’s pain levels, gastrointestinal and cardiovascular symptoms, and even their risk of stroke. This could lead to delayed diagnoses or incomplete treatment.

Communication may also play a role. Female doctors might be better at communicating with their female patients, creating a more open and trusting relationship. This could make women more likely to share important health information that leads to better diagnoses and treatment plans. Also, female patients may simply feel more comfortable with female physicians, especially when it comes to sensitive examinations or detailed health discussions.

But why do female patients seem to benefit more from having a female doctor than male patients do? The UCLA team says more research is necessary to untangle this question. Dr. Tsugawa stresses that understanding how and why male and female physicians practice differently could lead to interventions that improve patient care across the board.

“Further research on the underlying mechanisms linking physician gender with patient outcomes, and why the benefit of receiving the treatment from female physicians is larger for female patients, has the potential to improve patient outcomes across the board,” explains Dr. Tsugawa.

The study also highlights the importance of gender equity in the medical field. Despite providing high-quality care, female physicians often earn less than their male counterparts. Dr. Tsugawa argues this pay gap should be eliminated.

Pregnant woman check
Female patients seemed to benefit the most from this “female doctor effect.” (© chompoo –

“It is important to note that female physicians provide high-quality care, and therefore, having more female physicians benefits patients from a societal point-of-view,” explains Dr. Tsugawa.

This study is similar to what Harvard University researchers found during their 2020 survey about the care received between male and female doctors. According to the Harvard study, patients who receive care at a hospital from a female physician are less likely to die. They were also less likely to be hospitalized again compared to being seen by a male doctor.

This UCLA study doesn’t mean you should switch doctors based on gender alone. Many factors contribute to the quality of care, including a physician’s training, experience, and bedside manner.

However, the findings do suggest that the way male and female doctors approach patient care may differ in ways that impact health outcomes. As researchers continue to explore this fascinating topic, the hope is that the insights gained can be used to optimize medical care for everyone, regardless of the gender of the patient or the physician.

StudyFinds’ Matt Higgins contributed to this report.

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