Patients who receive care from female physicians have lower 30-day mortality and readmission rates than patients cared for by male internists. These were the findings of a new cross-sectional study of over one and a half million Medicare fee-for service beneficiaries.

Researchers chose a 20% random sample of Medicare beneficiaries ≥65 years of age to analyze. Those chosen were hospitalized with a medical condition and treated by a general internist from January 1, 2011, to December 31, 2014.

Only physicians focusing on hospital care were investigated to see whether physician sex played a role in 30-day mortality and readmission rates. In addition, the researchers looked at the differences in patient outcomes based on specific condition or disease severity. 

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For the 1,583,028 patients (mean [SD] patient age, 80.2 [8.5] years; 621,412 men and 961,616 women) in the 30-day mortality analysis, 11.07% of patients who were treated by female physicians died compared to 11.49% treated by male physicians (adjusted risk difference, –0.43%; 95% CI, –0.57% to –0.28%; P<.001; number needed to treat to prevent 1 death, 233).

The 30-day readmission rate was 15.02% vs. 15.57% for those treated by female and male physicians, respectively (adjusted risk difference, –0.55%; 95% CI, –0.71% to –0.39%; P<0.001; number needed to treat to prevent 1 readmission, 182). 

The researchers found that outcomes remained similar across eight different medical conditions and across patients’ severity of illness.

Previous literature has demonstrated that female physicians may be more likely to adhere to clinical guidelines, provide preventative care more often, and use more patient-centered communication than their male counterparts. This study is one of the first to seek empirical evidence on whether these differences had any impact on clinical 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,” concluded the authors.

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