Many people who are in need of medical care don't notice the difference of care if their doctor is a man or a woman. As people age, the degree and frequency of care increases, and it becomes very important that the elderly patient receives the best care possible.

A recent study finds that elderly patients live longer when their primary doctor is a woman, and that thousands of lives a year could be saved if their male counterparts used the same methods of care.

The difference is female

On December 19, JAMA Internal Medicine published a Harvard study of doctors who care for the elderly and found that those patients who are cared for by female doctors are less likely to die or have to return to the hospital after being discharged. The study's authors also stated that an estimated 32,000 patients per year would be saved if male doctors "could achieve the same outcomes as female physicians."

The researchers looked at over a million Medicare patients over the course of several years and tracked how their health was affected and the gender of their physician. Yet many people are asking how could this difference exist?

Why are the elderly more successful with women doctors?

The researchers say there's no one easy answer to that question. Studies done previously have found that female doctors also tend to use prevention counseling more with their patients, and order more preventative tests like mammograms. In a piece by MPR about the study, two married doctors discuss the findings from the viewpoint of a pediatrician and internist.

They agree with the findings in general, and believe that female doctors are better at listening and communication, which helps them understand what's going on with the patient more and dig deeper to find better solutions and prevention. Although many male doctors have great communication skills, and some female doctors may not, women have better communication on average and that their style of care is more successful for older patients.

What can be learned from the study?

There are many interesting conclusions and theories that can arise from these findings. One of which is how this study may indicate that a lack of communication between patients and their doctors, especially male, may lead to medical malpractice or mistakes. If a doctor and their patient don't communicate properly, an elderly patient can be misdiagnosed, over-medicated or their concerns or symptoms may go unheard.

Could many cases of malpractice and misdiagnosis be prevented each year? Potentially, if we can learn from what female doctors are doing right with more studies and help all doctors practice better, including improving their communication skills.


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