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Editorial
As A Woman, Is Having a Female Doctor Better? According to This Study, Maybe Not
© Photographee.eu / AdobeStock
AnnaMarie Houlis
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Current studies on the outcomes of critically ill patients show better outcomes for men. That may be because there’s mounting evidence that the patient’s gender is an important component in the intensive care unit (ICU) admission decision. And, now, researchers believe that the role of the physician’s gender is also a factor.

New research published in QJM: An International Journal of Medicine looked into how male and female physicians use the scarce resource of ICU beds, and finds that female doctors may make different decisions about their patients’ treatments than male doctors. The researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and Soroka University Medical Center, both in Israel, concluded that the gender bias seems to occur most often when female doctors are recommending treatment for critically ill women.

They followed 831 patients who were admitted to the resuscitation room in the emergency department at Soroka from 2011 to 2012. And they found that female patients treated by female physicians were less likely to be admitted to the ICU, where beds and other resources are limited, compared to male patients treated by male physicians. Specifically, female physicians admitted approximately 20 percent fewer of their female patients to the ICU than did male physicians, and 12 percent fewer female patients than male patients to the intensive cardiac care unit. 

“Previous studies show physicians are less likely to recognize symptoms that present differently in women, such as atypical chest pains, which can alter patient management and postpone delivery of crucial treatment,” the study’s lead author Iftach Sagy, M.D., said in an announcement by American Associates, Ben-Gurion University. “For the first time, we’ve demonstrated that a possible gender bias can influence decisions about who should be admitted to an ICU.”

When patients have invasive procedures, a study last year found that female surgeons may produce slightly better outcomes for them. Likewise, a 2016 study found patients who are hospitalized have a better chance for survival and are less likely to return to the hospital after discharge if they receive care from female internists. But this is only true for women when they're treated with the same care as men, and women have less-invasive procedures in both the emergency department and the ICU compared to men with the same illness level. 

Ultimately, the research suggests that the gender bias that affects the treatment female patients receive is reinforced by female physicians, too.

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AnnaMarie Houlis is a multimedia journalist and an adventure aficionado with a keen cultural curiosity and an affinity for solo travel. She's an editor by day and a travel blogger at HerReport.org by night.

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