Tara Parker-Pope writes for the New York Times that people who have a female doctor appear to have better health outcomes. The evidence from several studies suggest that it could be that both men and women do better with female doctors because they are better listeners.
A recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) finds that female heart patients live longer when treated by female doctors. Female heart patients have greatest risk of death if treated by male doctors, but their risk of death is reduced when the male doctors have worked with female doctors or treated a lot of female patients.
Researchers looked at over 580,000 heart attack patients in Florida over 20 years. They saw that male and female emergency room patients were less likely to die when the treating doctor was female.
A 2016 Harvard study had similar findings. The researchers looked at 1.5 million Medicare patients who were in hospital. They found that the male and female patients who had female doctors had a reduced risk of death as well as a reduced likelihood of being rehospitalized after discharge than patients treated by male doctors. While the difference in risk of death was small–around 0.5 percent–if male doctors had the same outcomes as female doctors on the total Medicare population, it would mean 32,000 fewer people dying each year.
Based on the data, one explanation for better outcomes with female doctors is that they rely a bit more on the evidence when treating patients and hew more closely to the clinical guidelines.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health conducted a meta-analysis of studies of doctor communications. They found that female primary care doctors do a better job of listening to their patients than their male counterparts. The female doctors spent two more minutes with each patient, which amounts to 10 percent more time with them.
If you have a male doctor you like, you still should make sure the doctor is a good listener, who takes you seriously. It’s important your doctor pay attention to you, not interrupt you precipitously and show an understanding of your health needs. You also need to be good at speaking up for yourself. Good communications is a very important element of good health care. Doctors will good listening skills are better able to understand symptoms, which can be important, especially for heart patients.
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