- A study found women with male surgeons are more likely to have poor outcomes than those with female surgeons.
- Men were, to a lesser degree, also more likely to die under a male surgeon's care.
- The findings may be driven by implicit gender bias and women doctor's communication styles.
Women who are operated on by male surgeons are more likely to experience complications and death than those who see female surgeons for the same procedures, a study finds.
The results, published in JAMA Surgery in December, based on the records of more than 1.3 million patients, suggest that implicit gender bias plays a role in surgical outcomes.
"We have demonstrated in our paper that we are failing some female patients and that some are unnecessarily falling through the cracks with adverse, and sometimes fatal, consequences," co-author Dr. Angela Jerath of the University of Toronto told the Guardian.
Even male patients had a higher risk of death when treated by male surgeons, they found
To conduct the study, researchers looked at patients who underwent one of 21 common procedures — like a hip replacement, gallbladder removal, or heart bypass surgery — in Ontario from 2007 to 2009. About half of the patients saw a surgeon of the opposite sex.
The researchers found that female patients treated by male surgeons were 32% more likely to die, 16% more likely to experience complications, and 11% more likely to be readmitted to the hospital than those who saw a female surgeon.
Male patients' outcomes were mostly the same regardless of their doctor's gender, but some too suffered under a male doctor's knife: Men were 13% more likely to die when operated on by a man versus a woman.
Sharing a marginalized identity with your doctor can be linked to better outcomes
Other research has demonstrated how doctor-patient concordance — or sharing a trait like gender — can affect outcomes.
One 2018 study found that women who had heart attacks were more likely to die when treated by a male physician. Both men and women had similar outcomes when treated by a female physician.
Jerath told the Guardian that gender differences in communication styles, decision-making, and judgment may play a role in the outcomes. Women may also feel more comfortable with female doctors, which could affect how well they adhere to post-care protocols.
Sharing a racial or ethnic identity with your doctor can affect outcomes too. A 2020 study found Black newborns were three times more likely to die than white newborns when cared for by white doctors, but their mortality rate decreased when their doctors were Black.
Sabia Wade, known as "the Black Doula," explained it to Insider this way: Having a provider who "understands Black culture without bias is the exact conversation the Black community has been having for years, and it's completely connected to the disproportionate Black infant mortality rate," she said. "Representation matters, and this new study proves just that."