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Female doctors offer better care, study finds

If you have a female doctor, there's a good chance the quality of care you receive is better than if you visited her male colleague down the hall.

That's the gender gauntlet thrown down by a new study out of the University of Montreal.

"Women had significantly higher scores in terms of compliance with practice guidelines. They were more likely than men to prescribe recommended medications and to plan required examinations," lead study author Valérie Martel, who devoted her master's thesis with the Department of Health Administration to the subject, said in a statement.

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Martel and her research team examined the billing information of more than 870 Quebec practitioners relating to their procedures with senior diabetic patients, according to the statement. They then compared treatments to guidelines set by the Canadian Diabetes Association.

Those guidelines say patients aged 65 and over with diabetes must undergo an eye exam every two years. There are three prescriptions for specific drugs, including statins, and patients should undergo a complete medical examination annually. Because all this information is accessible via a data bank, researchers were able to measure it all – and men and women scored very differently.

Among middle-aged doctors, women edged out the men on most counts.

According to the release, three out of four women required their patients to undergo an eye examination versus 70 per cent of their male counterparts; 71 per cent prescribed recommended medications compared to 67 per cent of male doctors, and a similar proportion prescribed statins (68 per cent versus 64 per cent); 39 per cent of female doctors specifically asked their patients to undergo a complete examination (versus 33 per cent of male doctors).

But men did edge out women in terms of productivity – male doctors reported nearly 1,000 more procedures per year compared to their female counterparts.

These differences were less stark in younger physicians, indicating that these trends may be changing.

But Régis Blais, a professor at the university's department of health administration who co-supervised the study, also cautioned against making any conclusions about high productivity. Blais said lower-productivity doctors may be saving the system money.

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"Doctors who take the time to explain problems to their patients may avoid these patients returning after a month because they are worried about a detail. More productive physicians may not be the ones we think," Blais said in the statement.

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About the Author

Tralee Pearce has been a reporter at The Globe and Mail since 1999, starting as a writer in the paper’s Style section. She joined the new Life section for its launch in 2007. She covers parenting and family issues for the daily section. More

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