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Some patients who see female doctors could live longer, study suggests: ‘Higher empathy’


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Patients who are treated by a female physician could live longer and have a reduced risk of hospitalization, new research has found.

These benefits were seen more in female patients compared to males, according to the study, which was published in the peer-reviewed journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

"Among older adults hospitalized for a medical condition, mortality and readmission rates were lower for patients treated by female physicians than those cared for by male physicians — and the benefit of receiving treatment from female physicians was greater for female patients than for male patients," lead study author Dr. Yusuke Tsugawa, associate professor-in-residence of medicine in the division of general internal medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, told Fox News Digital.

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The study included 700,000 Medicare beneficiaries 65 years of age and older who had been hospitalized between 2016 and 2019. 

The mortality rate was 8.15% for female patients treated by female physicians — compared to 8.38% for those treated by male physicians, according to a press release from UCLA Health.

Dr. Shana Johnson, a physical medicine and rehabilitation physician in Scottsdale, Arizona, who was not involved in the research, noted that the findings are "clinically significant," as the difference translates to an additional 1,053 female patient deaths.

Male patients also had lower mortality rates when treated by female physicians, but the difference was smaller.

Dr. Marc Siegel, clinical professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center and a Fox News medical contributor, was not involved in the study but called the findings "fascinating."

"Women tend to have a higher empathy quotient, which can impact patient care and diagnosis and treatment directly," he told Fox News Digital. 

"There has been a patriarchy in medicine for a long time, and there still may be some residual discounting of women's health issues or [doctors] seeing them as emotionally based," Siegel added.

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There is a "growing awareness" that doctors are more sensitive to health issues when they can relate directly to their patients, the doctor noted.

"This applies to screening, diagnosis and treatment," he said. 

The findings were not surprising to the researchers, they said.

"Previous studies have shown that female patients treated by a female physician (versus female patients treated by a male physician) are less likely to experience underappreciation in symptom/illness severity assessment and communication challenges," study co-author Atsushi Miyawaki, M.D., PhD, senior assistant professor in the Department of Health Services Research at the University of Tokyo, told Fox News Digital.

"Also, female physicians may help alleviate embarrassment, discomfort and sociocultural taboos during sensitive examinations and conversations in examining female patients," he said.

Other research has shown that female physicians are more likely to "adhere to clinical guidelines" and spend more time listening to patients compared to their male counterparts, which are "indicators of high-quality care," added Tsugawa.

Johnson agreed, pointing out that prior studies have found male physicians may underestimate pain, gastrointestinal symptoms and heart symptoms when experienced by women. 

"For instance, if a male and a female presented to the emergency room with upper stomach pain, the male would be checked for a heart attack and given medication for an upset stomach," she told Fox News Digital.

"The woman, however, may only be given medication for an upset stomach."

The study had some limitations, the researchers acknowledged.

"Due to limited clinical information available in our data, we could not identify the specific mechanisms underlying better outcomes for female patients treated by female physicians," Tsugawa told Fox News Digital.

Miyawaki also noted that the study focused on older patients admitted to hospitals for medical conditions.

"Hence, our findings may not be generalizable to younger patients, commercially insured patients, those treated by other specialists or patients receiving care in an outpatient setting," he told Fox News Digital.

More research is needed to better understand the differences between female and male physicians, Tsugawa said. 

"Those include guideline concordance and communication style, which lead to better patient outcomes for female physicians."

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Johnson also noted that while the study is of "good quality," there are "inherent limitations to the study design."

She said, "With a retrospective review, unmeasured factors can affect and skew the results. The findings do align with other research in the area, however."

At the society level, Miyawaki said, the research suggests that increasing the number of female physicians could benefit women’s health.

"At the individual level, patient-physician interactions, rather than physician gender itself, are important for patient outcomes, our study suggests," he said. 

"Thus, individuals may focus on the importance of the doctor-patient relationship rather than on whether to choose a female doctor."

Tsugawa agreed, noting, "It is important to consider multiple factors about physicians, such as their clinical experience and training, your prior experiences with them, and their communication style, rather than focusing solely on the physician's sex."

For more Health articles, visit www.foxnews.com/health.

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