Understanding practice differences between men and women and applying them in clinical settings can have very real consequences. But don't take the data too personally, says one researcher.
Female physicians are better than males.
That's the essence of the findings of Harvard researchers, distilled by headline writers and social media users. The study was published in JAMA Internal Medicine in December.
Senior study author Ashish Jha, MD, MPH, is more nuanced in his assessment of the findings.
"Modest but clinically important" is how he, a professor of health policy at the Harvard School of Public Health, describes the roughly half-percent difference in mortality and readmission rates of Medicare patients treated by male versus female physicians shown in a study of 1.5 million hospital visits throughout the United States.
Jha spoke with HealthLeaders Media recently about what healthcare leaders can learn from these findings, which suggest that male physicians could save 32,000 lives per year if they practiced more like their female counterparts. The following transcript has been lightly edited.
HealthLeaders Media: What made you want to research this topic?
Ashish Jha, MD: There are a dozen or so studies out there that suggest that women physicians are more likely to practice evidence-based medicine (EBM), more likely to stick to clinical guidelines, and that they communicate more effectively with patients than male physicians do.
We wondered simply whether all of this translates into better outcomes.
HLM: What's the response been like so far?
Jha: There's been a range, from people who are not surprised to those who are very skeptical. It's been mostly male physicians who are skeptical, but there are many male physicians who have been very supportive.
The key here is not to take the findings too personally.
Debra Shute is the Senior Physicians Editor for HealthLeaders Media.