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Women doctors outperform the men

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Patients who want better care should seek out a woman doctor rather than her male colleagues.

That, at least, is the conclusion of a Canadian study examining the treatment provided by 870 Quebec practitioners coordinating care for elderly diabetic patients.

Researchers from the University of Montreal monitored the billing patterns of the doctors, assessing the quality of care provided by reference to guidelines for the clinical treatment of diabetes issued by the Canadian Diabetic Association.

According to the guidelines, all patients aged 65 years and older must:

·         undergo an eye exam by an ophthalmologist or optometrist every two years;

·         receive three prescriptions for specific drugs including statins; and

·         undergo a complete medical examination annually.

The researchers found that, among middle aged doctors, 75 per cent of female doctors referred their patients to undergo an eye examination compared with 70 per cent of male doctors; 71 per cent of female doctors prescribed recommended medications compared with 67 per cent of male doctors, and 39 per cent of female doctors asked their patients to undergo a complete examination, compared with 33 per cent of male doctors.

However, male doctors were found to conduct 1000 more procedures a year than their female colleagues.

Lead researcher Valerie Martel said women has significantly higher scores in terms of compliance with practice guidelines, and that they were more likely than men to prescribe the recommended medications and plan required examinations.

 “My hypothesis was the differences between male and female practices have diminished over time,” Ms Martel wrote. “It seemed to me that more and more men are taking time with their patients at the expense of productivity, and more and more women tend to increase their number of procedures. This aspect was shown. The younger the doctor, the less significant the differences [between the genders].”

Professor Regis Blais, who oversaw the study, said that people assume women doctors spend more time with their patients than their male counterparts, but this was difficult to observe in scientific study.

Instead, he said, there were other aspects of care that needed to be taken into account.

He said that while a more productive doctor – one that saw more patients within a given time frame – would seem more profitable for a hospital, there was a bigger picture.

“Doctors who take the time to explain problems to their patients may avoid these patients returning after a month because they are worried about detail. The more productive physicians may not be the ones we think,” Professor Blais said.

Kirsty Waterford