Are Women Better Doctors?


Following up on our previous post on discriminatory medicine, it turns out that while medical care is still not the same for all, it’s not the same by all, either.

A study reported late last year indicates that, while women may still receive worse medical care from their doctors, female doctors actually achieve better results for their patients than their male counterparts. (And at a salary of about $20,000 less per year to boot.)

The study reported in JAMA Internal Medicine reviewed a random sample of the hospital records of Medicare patients over a four year period. Based on those resources, it concluded that patients treated by female physicians enjoyed significantly lower mortality and readmission rates compared to those treated by male physicians, even within the same hospital.

Which is fairly remarkable, especially because it’s not really explainable by any known measures.

This particular study did not delve into why and how female physicians achieved these better outcomes. Previous studies have suggested that female physicians are more likely to focus on preventative medicine and screening exams that can catch potential problems early, and are more likely to follow clinical guidelines. Others have theorized that female physicians tend to be better communicators and are more willing to engage in shared decision making with their patients, which may contribute to these better outcomes.

Women by no means have a monopoly on being good listeners and good communicators (and I’m sure we’ve all met an abrasive woman or two in our time), but there is no denying these skills traditionally have been more valued in women.

As recent years have seen the American medical community grappling with why our country’s medical costs are generally so high, and outcomes so poor, when compared to other developed nations, we have seen a turn towards focusing on these basic communication skills as part of a possible solution. At a conference held earlier this year right here in Tallahassee, medical providers in various fields discussed how to better include patients in their medical decision-making and how that might improve overall outcomes. The medical community itself now seems to be giving some credence to the need to adequately communicate with their patients.

Whether it is these communication skills or some other factor (maybe the fact that women have to try harder and be better to gain recognition in almost any field) that has contributed to women showing up the men this study, the results certainly are thought provoking. There is obviously something going on here that needs to be more closely examined; while good outcomes are good, it would be nice to know how they are being achieved and what can be done to increase them.

Because, trust me, as medical malpractice attorneys, we understand the value of a good outcome.

Many times we have to turn down potential clients who have had bad outcomes because we cannot determine what, if anything, their doctors may have done to cause it. Sometimes bad outcomes are inevitable, or are the result of risk factors that cannot be 100% reduced, no matter how careful the doctors and nurses. It would be far more useful if it was easier to discern the reasons.

Sometimes we have to turn down cases because, even though a doctor did something that was obviously wrong, the patient was fortunately able to bounce back and experience a good outcome. (This is what we hope for.) It would be nice if those mistakes would not be made in the first place.

Hopefully, bringing studies like this one into the light may be a first step in creating major improvements for America’s patients. There is always so much to be learned.