Doctors performing surgery

Patients Treated by Women at Lower Risk of Complications – Research

Researchers in Canada discovered that male and female patients treated by women surgeons for fractures, hip replacements, and heart problems were about 10 percent less likely to experience complications such as internal bleeding or infection within 90 days following surgery than those treated by males.

They were also 6 percent less likely to be hospitalized for surgery-related problems up to a year later. Doctors speculated that the difference in results was attributable to variances in how patients responded to guidance from male and female doctors in the research, which included roughly 1.2 million patients.

They suggested male doctors were more likely to face disagreements from patients of both genders when giving advice on weight loss, exercise and diet compared to female doctors.

In an unrelated study, male doctors were also found to get the job done quicker, showing they had significantly shorter operating times for surgeries like gallbladder removal than their female counterparts.

The majority of doctors are men and the share has been steadily increasing in recent decades. The Canadian researchers noted female doctors were more likely to have younger patients with fewer risk factors than their male counterparts.

In the study, published in JAMA Surgery, scientists looked at patients in the Ontario Health Insurance Plan, which covers surgeries in Ontario, Canada.

They extracted data on 1.16million patients who received surgery in the province between 2007 and 2019.

Each was admitted for one of 25 common elective or emergency surgeries, such as for fractures, coronary artery surgery or a hip replacement. They were tracked for up to a year for adverse events including death, re-admission or complications from surgery — such as internal bleeding.

More than a million of the patients — 90 percent — were seen by male doctors, the researchers found. Sixty percent of the patients were female and they had an average age of 59 years old.

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Overall, the study found 14.3 percent of patients had one or more complications within the 90 days after surgery. A quarter had had a complication by one year later. Two percent of patients also died within 90 days of surgery, and four percent died within a year.

For patients who had a male surgeon, the researchers found 146,000 (14.5 percent) suffered a complication within 90 days of surgery, while 261,000 (25.8 percent) had one within a year.

But for those who had a female surgeon, 19,000 (12.6 percent) had a complication within three months. After a year had passed, 29,000 (19 percent) had a medical problem related to their surgery.

The analysis adjusted for factors like patient and doctor gender, age, the year the surgery took place and socioeconomic status. They also found patients were up to 25 percent more likely to die within a year if they had a male doctor compared to a female doctor.

But they suggested this was likely because male surgeons were more likely to be treating older patients who had more comorbidities. Data showed the average age of patients treated by male doctors was 60 years old, and 20 percent had severe comorbidities.

For female surgeons, the average age of patients was 52 years old and 17 percent had severe comorbidities. The scientists, led by Dr Christopher Wallis, a urologist at the University of Toronto, wrote in the paper: “While technical ability is associated with short-term surgical outcomes, other factors, including patient selection, may contribute more meaningfully to longer-term patient outcomes.

“Prior work has reported differences in communication, practice style, and the physician-patient relationship between female and male physicians. We postulate these differences, along with differences in practice, may contribute more meaningfully to longer-term patient outcomes”.

Data showed among female doctors, the majority worked in general surgery and obstetrics and gynecology. Among male doctors, the majority were in general surgery and orthopedic surgery. Previous studies have also shown male doctors tend to complete more work than their female counterparts.

A 2020 study published by the New England Journal of Medicine found female doctors received fewer visits than male counterparts and generated less revenue. It added they also spent more time in direct patient care for every visit, every day and over the course of a year.