A Harvard-led study has found that elderly patients treated by female doctors while hospitalized were less likely to succumb to death within 30 days of their admission, or be readmitted 30 days after being discharged compared with those who were cared for by male doctors.

Publishing their findings in JAMA Internal Medicine, Yusuke Tsugawa and colleagues estimated that if male doctors achieved the same results as their female colleagues, there could be 32,000 fewer deaths annually among patients subscribed to Medicare alone. That's a figure comparable to the yearly number of deaths recorded due to vehicular accidents across the United States.

There have been studies before that explored the differences in how male and female doctors practice, but this is the first time that researchers looked at gender differences on not only the national level but how the differences in practice could affect outcomes for patients.

"The difference in mortality rates surprised us," said Tsugawa, the study's lead author, adding that a doctor's gender appears to have the most effect for the sickest patients.

For the study, the researchers examined data from over a million Medicare patients at least 65 years old and treated by a general internist from 2011 to 2014 for being admitted to a hospital with a medical condition. Differences were adjusted in patient and doctor characteristics and were assessed to determine if differences in patient outcomes were varied depending on the condition or the severity of an illness.

A Woman's Touch

Based on their findings, the researchers reported that patients treated by female doctors are 4 percent less likely to die prematurely and 5 percent less likely to undergo readmission to a hospital 30 days after being discharged. They encountered a wide range of medical conditions and levels of illness severity during the study so the researchers limited their analysis to doctors focused on offering hospital care and were randomly assigned patients based on their work schedules. Results were consistent, even after that, suggesting that the ability of healthier patients to choose their own doctors was not a factor.

Females In The Medical Workforce

Female doctors account for about a third of the entire physician workforce in the United States and make up half of all graduates from medical schools in the country.

According to Ashish Jha, the study's senior author, it's important to understand how female doctors are linked to lower mortality and readmission rates as this can aid in ensuring that all patients are offered the best possible outcomes for their condition.

Other researchers for the study include: Daniel Blumenthal, Anupam Jena, E. John Orav and Jose Figueroa.

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