By Tara Parker-Pope The New York Times
Aug 26, 2018 at 4:45 AM Aug 26, 2018 at 4:56 AM
Whether your doctor is a man or woman could be a matter of life or death, a new study suggests. A study of more than 580,000 heart patients admitted over two decades to emergency rooms in Florida found that mortality rates for both women and men were lower when the treating physician was a woman. And women who were treated by male doctors were the least likely to survive.
Earlier research supports the findings. In 2016, a Harvard study of more than 1.5 million hospitalized Medicare patients found that when patients were treated by female physicians, they were less likely to die or be readmitted to the hospital over a 30-day period than those cared for by male doctors. The difference in mortality was slight — about half a percentage point — but when applied to the entire Medicare population, it translates to 32,000 fewer deaths.
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Other studies also have found meaningful differences in how women and men prac-tice medicine. Researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health analyzed a number of studies that focused on how doctors communicate. They found that female primary-care doctors simply spent more time listening to patients. But listening comes with a cost. Female doctors spent, on average, two extra minutes, creating scheduling delays and putting them an hour or more behind their male colleagues by the end of the day.
The authors of the Florida study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, urged caution in interpreting the results, and noted that one can only speculate about the reasons that female patients had better survival when being treated by female doctors.
Dr. Nieca Goldberg, a cardiologist whose book “Women Are Not Small Men” helped start a national conversation about heart disease in women, said the research should not be used to disparage male doctors, but should instead empower patients to find doctors who listen.
Goldberg, who is the medical director of the Joan H. Tisch Center for Women’s Health at NYU Langone, said, “Patients not only want you to take care of them in terms of making the right diagnosis, they also want to feel heard, and a big part of health care is the communication piece,” she said.
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