There does not appear to be a link between physician gender and patient-care costs or mortality, according to a study conducted by researchers at UC Davis Health System.
Though earlier studies suggested that the communication styles and related behaviors often associated with female physicians may lower their patients' use of services and healthcare costs, the UC Davis study demonstrated otherwise.
For the study, which was published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine's March-April issue
, researchers evaluated responses provided by 21,365 patients aged 18 and older between the years 2002 and 2008 as part of the U.S. Medical Expenditure Panel Survey project. Their determination was that the genders of respondents' usual healthcare providers did not have an impact on the cost of their healthcare or prescription drugs; deaths; or frequency of hospital, emergency room or medical office visits.
“Our findings suggest that if the goal is to contain costs and the risk of death, there is no reason to differentially recruit or train physicians of either gender,” Dr. Anthony Jerant, the study's lead author and professor of family and community medicine at UC Davis, said in a release. “We should instead focus on factors such as patients' cigarette smoking and diet, which are known to influence healthcare utilization and mortality.”
In fact, such characteristics and behaviors were not adequately considered in prior studies, further explaining the discrepancy between their findings and the ones in this larger national investigation.
“We suspect that failing to comprehensively account for these factors might have made it appear that gender is independently associated with healthcare utilization,” Jerant said.
Jerant and colleagues also considered patients who consistently chose physicians of one gender but changed providers during the study, as well as patients who switched to physicians of a different gender.
These analyses continued to provide support for their original conclusion.
Study authors also included Drs. Peter Franks, Joshua Fenton and Klea Bertakis, all physician-researchers within the UC Davis department of family and community medicine. The UC Davis Health System in Sacramento, Calif., includes a medical school, school of nursing, teaching hospital, physician practice group, comprehensive cancer center, neurodevelopmental and stem cell institutes, and comprehensive children's hospital.