Patients under the care of female doctors are less likely to die, new study shows

The senior adult woman listens carefully as the unrecognizable female doctor explains the diagnosis to her.

Seeing a female doctor could be better for longevity, according to a new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine Monday.

Both male and female patients have a greater chance of death or readmission within 30 days under the care of a male physician, but the risk is much greater for women, the findings show.

Researchers drew a sample of 800,000 Medicare patients ages 65 and older admitted to hospitals from 2016 through 2019 to explore the answer.

Despite the seemingly large sample size, researchers made clear that there is still much to learn about "whether the effects of physician sex on patients’ clinical outcomes vary by patient sex," the study states.

Here's what was found.

We could be saving up to 5,000 women each year

About 31% of each group of patients observed (male and female) had female providers caring for them, according to the study.

The results showed that 8.15% of women cared for by female doctors died within 30 days compared to the 8.38% who died under the care of male doctors. The researchers say this is a "clinically significant" difference that could save up to 5,000 women’s lives a year if the gap were closed, according to NBC News.

For male patients, the difference in percentage was only .08%.

“What our findings indicate is that female and male physicians practice medicine differently, and these differences have a meaningful impact on patients' health outcomes,” Dr. Yusuke Tsugawa, an associate professor of health policy and management at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health and senior author of the study said in a UCLA press release.

“Further research on the underlying mechanisms linking physician gender with patient outcomes, and why the benefit of receiving the treatment from female physicians is larger for female patients, has the potential to improve patient outcomes across the board," he shared.

Why female physicians provide better care

Female doctors may be providing better care because they are better at communicating and they are more likely to take patient concerns seriously compared to male doctors, according to UCLA's reporting of the study. Women may be more comfortable detailing their conditions with female providers and more relaxed during sensitive tests.

“We know that there are differences in care delivery patterns by male versus female physicians across fields of medicine," Dr. Lisa Rotenstein, assistant professor and medical director at the University of California San Francisco and co-author of the study told Medical News Today.

"Female physicians spend more time with patients and spend more time engaging in shared medical decision making and partnership discussions than male counterparts,” Rotenstein shared, "In the surgical realm, female physicians spend longer on a surgical procedure and have lower rates of postoperative readmissions," she added.

Previously published studies reported by USA TODAY showed that women operated on by male surgeons are more likely to die or suffer from complications, and that women are more likely to die of a heart attack when treated my male doctors than their female counterparts.

"We need to be asking ourselves how to provide the training and incentives so that all doctors can emulate the care provided by female physicians," Rotenstein shared.

Tsugawa added that it is important to note that "female physicians provide high-quality care," and that "having more female physicians benefits patients from a societal point-of-view."

"A better understanding of this topic could lead to the development of interventions that effectively improve patient care," Tsugawa said.

Study co-authors are Dr. Atsushi Miyawaki of the University of Tokyo, Dr. Anupam Jena of Harvard University, and Dr. Lisa Rotenstein of UC San Francisco.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Seeing a female physician could lead to a longer life, new study shows