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A woman is 15 percent more likely to die if surgeon is male, Study shows

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You don’t always get to select who performs on you, especially in an emergency, but the gender of your surgeon shouldn’t be a factor, right?

According to a 1.3 million-people research conducted in Canada, it just may.

According to the study, women who had common elective or emergency procedures performed by male surgeons had a 15% higher chance of dying, having a significant complication, or being readmitted to the hospital within 30 days than women who had their surgery performed by a woman.

Men, on the other hand, had similar positive outcomes regardless of their surgeon’s gender, according to the study.

The exact reason for this “sex discordance” is unknown, and the study was not aimed to answer this question.

“We hypothesize, based on prior work regarding communication between patients and physicians, that this may underpin the observation,” says study author Dr. Christopher Wallis.

According to previous research, female doctors listen more than male doctors, and their patients may benefit as a result.

“Patients should seek to find surgeons that they trust and communicate well with,” added Wallis.

“As a surgical community, we should seek to better understand the factors underpinning these observations such that we can understand the processes of care that lead to optimal outcomes so all surgeons can use these and all patients can benefit.”

Between 2007 and 2019, more than 1.3 million patients had 21 common elective and emergency operations, according to the report.

Nearly 15% of patients had one or more negative outcomes in the month following surgery, such as death, readmission, or a problem. Nearly half of the patients were of the same gender as their surgeon.

Female patients treated by male surgeons had poorer outcomes following surgery, whereas female doctors had identical results whether they operated on men or women, according to the study.

Although the study was conducted in Canada, Wallis believes the findings are likely to be applicable to the United States.

The findings were published this month in JAMA Surgery.

“This study provides new information about the role of sex differences between surgeons and patients and the potential relationship with outcomes by showing that sex discordance does affect outcomes,” added Dr. Amalia Cochran.

According to Cochran, a professor of surgery at the University of Florida College of Medicine, there aren’t as many female surgeons as there are male surgeons.

While gender equality has now been achieved in medical school, it has yet to be achieved in the surgical ranks: According to the editorial, women made up only 22% of general surgeons in the United States in 2019.

The study is “yet another reason why, as a profession, we must be intentional about having a workforce that is representative of the patients we care for and in which we encourage belonging for all workforce members,” according to Cochran.

The findings are unlikely to be related to variations in surgical prowess or technical expertise between male and female surgeons, according to Dr. Cassandra Kelleher, a pediatric surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

“It’s likely due to something more nuanced such as how surgeons listen to people after surgery and the way that they involve family or caregivers, or listen to nurses on the floor who express concern,” said Kelleher, who was not involved in the new study.

Other criteria, such as how approachable the surgeon is and the level of risk he or she is ready to take, may also play a role.

The interaction between the patient and the surgeon is crucial.

“It may be that a woman has a really good rapport with a male doctor, and that is much more important than gender,” Kelleher said.

“All surgeons should place more weight on communication, listening skills and risk assessment to help close these gaps in care.”

Image Credit: GEtty

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