A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine seems to indicate that women may provide superior medical care in some situations. In the study of patients under the care of a hospitalist, there was a small but significant difference in the likelihood that elderly patients were still alive or had to be readmitted to the hospital depending on the gender of the doctor who cared for them. Although the analysis can't prove the gender of the physician was the determining factor, the researchers made multiple efforts to rule out other explanations.
A quote from a Washington Post article on the research: “If we had a treatment that lowered mortality by 0.4 percentage points or half a percentage point, that is a treatment we would use widely. We would think of that as a clinically important treatment we want to use for our patients,” said Ashish Jha, Professor of Health Policy at the Harvard School of Public Health. The study proposed that as many as 32,000 patients' lives could be saved in the Medicare population, alone, if all patients were treated by women.
Studies have suggested that men and women practice medicine differently. Women are more likely to adhere to clinical guidelines and counsel patients on preventive care. They are more communicative than men. Does this study support the notion that there is more to quality of care than clinical skills?
Also from the Post article, “To Judith Hall, a professor of psychology at Northeastern University, who has long studied the communication skills and attitudes of doctors of both genders, the research adds a crucial piece of evidence. Female doctors, she said, tend to be more patient-centered, talk about and factor in psychological and emotional factors, and are better judges of nonverbal cues.”
Even if you don’t want to draw any firm conclusions about gender, these findings reinforce the idea that patient outcomes depend on something more than what’s on the CV. The patient experience, and patient outcomes are dependent, to a large degree, on personality and behavioral traits: The tendency to follow clinical guidelines and to counsel patients, to communicate effectively, to use emotional intelligence to understand and respond to patient needs.
Regardless of gender, when selecting candidates for medical school, physicians for your team, or even when developing physicians, we need to look at attributes that aren’t reflected on the CV – compassion, emotional intelligence, stress tolerance, conscientiousness, the ability to collaborate, etc.
Not surprisingly, more of our clients are asking us to apply the science of selection to physicians. In building an adaptive, patient-focused, collaborative team of physicians, healthcare organizations are incorporating proven methods of evaluating behavioral skills – starting with a new approach to the physician interview, and the use of physician-specific behavioral assessments.
Our team would argue that you don’t need to hire more female physicians. You need to hire more physicians with the behavioral skills that matter – regardless of their gender.